In 2015 a lot of writers and tech commenters boldly stated that 2016 was the year of VR. For the most part, they were right, but VR’s thunder was somewhat stolen through the noise made by augmented reality technology.
The VR Revolution
In 2016 we saw the release of long-awaited virtual reality platforms such as the Vive and Oculus Rift. VR is finally here in a form that’s good to use and ready for the mainstream. Of course, it’s still pretty darn expensive and needs a powerful computer to work, but if you can get it chances are you’ll love it.
The problem is that, cool as VR is, it’s not super useful. For training simulations and video games, VR is an amazing technology. The problem is that it’s a pretty expensive luxury. Conversely, video game consoles are cheap and double as media centers. Computers also do many things, ranging from entertainment to serious work.
That’s VR’s biggest problem at the moment: it only appeals to hardcore VR fans. Until its price comes down or more killer apps are released, it will remain a niche product.
Every Day People
Compare that to a technology such as smartphones. Today just about everyone has a smartphone. They’ve become a dominant form of technology that few people have trouble using and even fewer would fail to recognize.
VR is not like that at all. You have to isolate yourself from the outside world, which makes it a very personal experience. It happens in a room closed off from the world or, if you’re brave, in public on a train or airplane.
Augmented reality technology is a related beast. It is still very different in practice. Between virtual reality and augmented reality technology it’s the latter that’s most likely to take the world by storm.
Augmented Reality Technology: What is it?
Before I get to all the interesting stuff that we can expect in 2017 and beyond, it’s probably a good idea to explain things first.
Virtual reality is a term that just about everyone knows now, but augmented reality technology is probably not that well-known. At least not yet.
Basically, augmented reality technology takes the real world as it is and then adds a layer of digital information to it. Think of it as a sort of Robocop or Terminator vision.
For example, Microsoft’s Hololens system can project virtual objects onto the walls and flat surfaces like tables. You can have a room full of bare walls and furniture, but through the Hololens it looks like there are paintings. TV screens, sculptures or whatever.
Apart from these sorts of physical object projections, it can be as simple as a heads-up display. A lot of things technically count as augmented reality.
The stuff to really get excited about, however, basically, amounts to a mix of virtual reality and augmented reality technology. Which is also referred to as mixed reality.
Best of Show
We fetl the presence of augmented reality technology strongly at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Expo. It seemed that every company had some sort of augmented reality technology product to show off alongside their VR offerings.
There’s a definite drive to make slim and light augmented reality glasses that don’t make you look like a dork.
One company doing really interesting work in this area is Lumus Vision. These guys are making transparent AR displays that can fit in spectacle frames, helmet visors or car windows.
Their SLEEK prototype is especially impressive with a VGA-resolution monocle and Android 4.1.2 support it almost seems like a finished product. As with augmented reality technology in things like the Hololens, the field of view is very narrow. Just 23 degrees diagonally, but it’s an amazing start and shows that the tech is much further ahead than many people may think.
What About 2017?
There’s a strong sentiment floating about that we’ll see more and more companies offer some sort of augmented reality technology in 2017 or at least announce it.
These may turn out to be true or not, but they certainly point to an interesting AR year in 2017.
One rumor that’s going around is augmented reality technology for the upcoming iPhone 8.
It’s not just blind speculation either. Apple has bought up several augmented reality technology companies AND they’ve poached AR experts from companies they couldn’t buy.
VR Companies are Buying In
Both HTC and Oculus are working on untethered mobile headsets that have external cameras and room-scale tracking. While these aren’t mainly meant to be AR devices, there’s no way AR won’t play a role here.
Lumus has competition in the form of Vuzix. Have a look at these thin Blade 3000 smart glasses that are set for release in 2017:
The specs on these are impressive, with a quad-core CPU and 32GB of RAM. It’s what the first Google Glass was meant to be.
The asking price is likely going to be a steep $1000 at first. That will change and the price is expected to drop to half that by the end of 2018.
I Can See Clearly Now
Premature efforts such as Google Glass were a big disappointment. New augmented reality technology looks much more useful. It’s already priced better too.
While $1000 sounds like a lot of money, regular people are already happy to spend that much on an iPhone or other flagship mobile gadget. That means AR is about to directly compete with other mobile computing solutions for the first time.
Although the first customers are still mainly going to be enterprises, it’s not longer a question of stumping up ten thousand dollars for a basic AR device.
Make no mistake, augmented reality technology is coming and there’s a good chance that it will overtake VR as a dominant new medium. Especially since the requirements for VR can be so expensive. It’s one of the main reasons why you may want to hold off spending your money on a VR headset. Waiting to see what happens in the AR space may be the more sensible thing to do.
Lead Image Public Domain via Pixabay