Augmented Reality: Interweaving Worlds

Published on 07 Jan, 2021

Augmented reality (AR) is a disruptive technology that intertwines the physical and virtual worlds. AR is being effectively applied in various areas, from healthcare to advertising. The use of AR-based aids has made distance learning more interesting and effective during the lockdown. In the commercial space, AR has benefitted both consumers and businesses. Moreover, AR systems are being used in defense to plan strategic operations. Overall, the adoption of AR has been reported to save operational cost and time, besides enhancing efficiency. Researchers in the field are devoting considerable efforts to further explore the potential of this technology which is expected to revolutionize the world and transform the way humans think and live.

The technological field is highly dynamic and vibrant. Innovations are continuously changing the way we live. Certain innovations have led to disruption; one such disruptive technology is augmented reality (AR). AR creates an enhanced picture by interweaving the real world with the virtual world, using graphics and other computer-generated inputs. This technology is being applied in diverse fields, from entertainment to defense. For instance, in defense, creation of critical mission scenarios using AR while training helps in executing them effectively in real time. AR systems used in planning military operations enhance efficiency and situational awareness.

Several companies are actively exploring AR to provide immersive experience to consumers. Retail giant IKEA has launched an app, IKEA Place, which enables users to virtually revamp their homes with the company’s products. This helps users to test the products in real time and gives them an exact picture. AR has been reshaping various sectors, as described below.

Education could significantly benefit from the adoption of AR. During the COVID-19-related lockdown, AR has helped teachers to make virtual classes more interesting and a fun-filled experience. A few months back, a teacher at a school in Tamil Nadu bedazzled kindergartners by placing an elephant next to her in the classroom. Teachers have also started using AR to introduce concepts such as the solar system and spaceship. Such visual aids help in significantly enhancing students’ understanding, besides sparking interest and motivating them. Several schools are undertaking similar initiatives to add value to remote learning.

AR has the potential to revolutionize the medical field, making healthcare, surgery, drug administration, etc. highly effective. AR-based models of internal organs aid in not only deepening medical professionals’ knowledge but also enhancing their performance. The application of AR has been advantageous in anatomical dissections and other medical procedures such as laparoscopy (ProMIS simulator), neurosurgery (Perk Station), and echocardiography (CAE VIMEDIX simulator, EchoCom). In particular, AR systems have helped in reducing the length of surgeries, benefitting both patients as well as surgeons. AR also enables healthcare providers to better understand the efficacy of a new drug, device, or therapy. Moreover, AR-based visual aids help doctors to explain complex treatments to patients; this, in turn, enhances patients’ comprehension and doctor-patient interaction.

AR has been relatively better explored in entertainment. AR has helped entertainment providers to deliver a highly engaging experience. For instance, AR has been used to give life to fairy tales, wherein virtual characters from the wonderworld are incorporated into physical settings diligently. Users can also interact with the characters which is enthralling. However, creation of such magical moments requires carefully designing the virtual characters, a challenging task. If the characters are not designed properly, they would not blend well with the natural setting and the user-virtual character interaction would not be smooth. AR is also extensively being used in gaming. Companies are developing AR-based mobile games which enable gamers to build virtual structures, place these structures in real-life neighborhoods, and go on adventurous trips with friends in the new world. Moreover, AR-enabled devices such as HoloLens (from Microsoft) allow gamers to interact with virtual characters and objects, including waging battles against virtual aliens, in their living rooms.

AR is being intensively used in the automobile sector across various areas, including development of new products, maintenance and after-sales service, quality assurance, navigation, and advertising, among others. This has opened considerable opportunities in the sector. For instance, General Motors has been partnering with several universities to create an AR system to help motorists in challenging driving conditions. Moreover, AR has enabled automotive manufacturers to design novel models and check whether a new engine would aptly fit into an existing model, preventing the need for manual operations. This has, in turn, helped the companies save cost and time. Manufacturers are also using AR to advertise their products effectively. For example, Mercedes-Benz has launched an AR-based mobile app, Mercedes cAR, which enables customers to view in detail the various components of a Mercedes car. Mercedes cAR also allows customers to configure the interiors of the vehicle as well as the exteriors, including the color. Furthermore, the app offers an interactive driving experience to a prospective buyer before the actual purchase—users can place the car of their choice in real-life settings and go on a virtual drive.

Thus, AR, with the help of machines, helps in expanding human capabilities. It has significantly driven growth in various industries. However, this technology is still in its infancy and its full potential is yet to be tapped. The only limitation to exploiting AR is one’s imagination. AR is expected to trigger innovations in several fields that would considerably benefit humanity. Will AR be the “new reality?” Only time will tell!

It is ideal to obtain expert opinion while selecting the appropriate technology for your business.