By Chris Mahon
Last night, Outer Places sat in on a panel on augmented reality at Microsoft’s Times Square HQ to learn where the industry is going, what it’s all about, and when we’ll be able to move virtual computer screens around in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report . The event was organized by Disruptive Technologists, a group focused on bringing together some of the smartest people in the tech world to talk about new ideas and what to expect for the future. Watching the event confirmed beyond a doubt that 1) we live in the future and 2) augmented reality is going to be just as exciting as VR.
Five panelists took the stage at the event: Nick Landry, Senior Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, Lynn Rogoff, Founder and CEO at Green Kids Media, Oleksandra Rohachova, CEO and Founder of Inkhunter, Alper Guler, Business Analyst and Software Engineer at Pandora Reality, and Lindsay Boyajian, Chief Marketing Officer at Augment.
A lot of different tech was discussed, with Microsoft’s HoloLens, Google’s Tango platform, and Magic Leap becoming recurring topics. Nick Landry’s descriptions of the HoloLens’ medical applications (including creating interactive, 3-D models of human anatomy) were mind-blowing, but hearing other panelists talk about testing virtual tattoos on yourself with your phone (Inkhunter) or viewing a life-sized virtual coffee maker on your counter before buying it online (Augment) made the everyday applications of augmented (or mixed) reality even more exciting. Still, according to the panelists, three big challenges face AR for the future:
1. Depth-Sensing Phone Cameras
Until either everyone has a headset over their eyes or society becomes fully integrated AR technology (AR-enhanced subways, refrigerators, etc.), smart phones offer the most readily available platform for augmented reality. One problem: the vast majority don’t have depth-sensing cameras, which are essential for creating an accurate 3-D map of a room or your surroundings. Now that the Tango and other pieces of tech are poised to hit the market, the experience will become easier for regular folk to move in an AR world, but like QR codes, it’ll take some time for these cameras to become widely used.
2. Educating People About It
Even if you’re a gadget freak who’s willing to shell out the money, products like the HoloLens still aren’t aimed at consumers—right now, they’re meant for developers and companies. With that in mind, there aren’t a lot of ways for regular people to learn about what AR does, how it works, or even check out what it’s been used for (like those cool 3-D medical applications). On the other side, companies and developers are having to change the way they think about everything—programming, sound design, UI, and UX all need to be revised to work in a format that no one’s tried before. The fastest learners are going to have an advantage, but in the meantime, a lot of people need to catch up.
3. Avoiding the Google Glass Stigma
When Google Glass came out, it wasn’t hailed as a piece of cutting-edge technology from the smartest company on the planet—it was made fun of as an ostentatious geek toy for early adopters with too much money and not enough social awareness. What’s to keep other headsets from falling into the same Uncanny Valley of wearable gadgets? According to Landry, Google’s problem was two-fold: trying to get the Glass into consumers’ hands first (rather than initially making them a product aimed at businesses and developers), and not making them cheap enough for everyone to buy. It’s a delicate balancing act between being the hot new must-have gadget and being a cratered laughingstock, apparently.
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