I’ve been in the Augmented Reality (AR) space for over 6 years. My fascination began when I used some early Vuforia apps developed in Unity 3D. I began supporting the Qualcomm Vuforia team in 2011, building a relationship with Unity and its asset store. AR opened my eyes to enhanced digital experiences that I hadn’t realized were possible before then. Experiencing AR on a smartphone exposed some compelling entertainment and industrial use cases.
It turns out adding a camera to a phone was more than just a great convenience. Today, we’re seeing a surge in embedded vision technology that’s driving mobile AR as well as autonomous vehicles. There’s also been a race to come up with new definitions for AR. Some now call it Mixed, Enhanced, Super or Hyper Reality.
I got to know a few important Unity Virtual Reality (VR) developers in 2011, and they reminded me of early PC hackers in some ways. Despite not having the commercial hardware required, they managed to do some impossible things and created ‘wow’ moments with little more than store bought accessories that were pieced together in a thought provoking manner.
ARVR is how I refer to the entire landscape of immersive input/output hardware and software these days. I think there’s been too much emphasis on trying to define and promote AR and VR rather than prove the technology out, build easy to access experiences and explore the expansive social capabilities. Another obstacle to market growth these days is the priority some industry professionals put on branding themselves and their own endeavors rather than grouping together to crowd resource solutions to some of our biggest technology hurdles.
One of AR’s big challenges has been input and VR shares a huge challenge but it’s the opposite, output. AR depends on computer vision (CV), and to this day there aren’t many independent computer vision companies providing widely adopted solutions. Most of the indie CV technology has been bought by Apple, Google, and a few other F100s. Once acquired, these technologies disappear from the 3rd party ecosystem until it’s re-released in a new proprietary setting. This often interrupts the natural progression of content developer technology adoption.
VR depends on comfortable and affordable displays for end users to immerse themselves with. As we have seen with most VR devices today, great form factors are still evolving to what we need. From the high-end tethered systems to more accessible mobile head mounted displays (HMDs), there’s been a race to be the winner, while we’re still a few years from (competitive) and mass market adoption.
Processing and graphics computing power for consumers has finally gotten sufficient attention that it’s being addressed by all the major chip manufacturers and related companies. We still haven’t arrived at the year when mass market adoption is possible, but we’re probably close. Most likely this will occur through mobile devices first (as there are Billions). Until then, there’s a still a bit of hype and Kool Aid being served from analysts to the media to hardware and content makers alike.
While some hype is predictable for any evolving industry, much of the recent market disappointment in ARVR may be attributed to false-positive forecasts and reporting that only seems to self serve smaller agendas short term. Fortunately, outweighing the hype is a bigger movement that’s being rapidly fed by innovative people and organizations as well as consumers who have adapted to technology and want more.