It seems like every week, the introduction of a new application or technology promises to revolutionize the world of digital experiences. Usually, the hype leads to applying technology in a way that amounts to nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

Among these technologies is Augmented Reality (AR), which has been heralded to become an indispensable part our lives. And it surely has the potential to become more than just a gimmick.

Digital images have become as much a part of our lives as the things we can touch and feel. AR superimposes our digital world onto the real one. It can enhance the experience of reality by making it more understandable and interesting. 

Currently, AR is mostly used as a way to enhance our digital gaming experience, as made evident by the massive success of Pokemon Go. But it has the potential to be much more.

According to Orbis Research, the AR market is anticipated to reach $7 trillion by 2027, growing in some cases at the same pace as as applications like Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go grew to a massive 45 million daily active users per day after two months in the market.

AR's potential applications are becoming evident as the technology matures and prices come down, and you can already see the impact it's making in four industries. 

1. Retail

Today, uncertainty is one of the largest barriers to online shopping.

Shopping in the age of Amazon is a much more convenient and curated shopping experience, but in-store purchases are still far higher than online--studies show that in some cases 88% of shoppers still prefer buying in-store.

This is because most of us still value the tactile, personal experience of holding or trying a product firsthand before purchasing--kicking the tires, if you will, before we buy the car. There's also an instant gratification that a quick trip to the store offers over any online experience.

In the next 12 months, we'll start to see more brands leverage AR to let their customers try before they buy. In fact, it's already started to happen. 

In tandem with the release of Apple's ARKit, Ikea designed an app that enables users to browse furniture and place their selections anywhere-- at the bus stop, in the coffee shop, or more importantly, in your own living room.

Other innovative "try on" applications of VR include Inkhunter's experience that allows users to visualize how a tattoo might look on their body, Sephora's app that lets customers try on makeup using their front facing camera and Ray Ban's app that lets users try on different pairs on sunglasses without ever visiting a store. 

2. Entertainment 

As demonstrated by Pokemon Go, entertainment is one of the more common uses of AR.

While some uses of emerging technologies for the purposes of entertainment and brand awareness seem gimmicky, there is business value in AR's ease of use for amusement.

Alongside AR, VR and Artificial Intelligence are also emerging technologies being used for entertainment and brand awareness, but you need to buy separate equipment (like VR headsets, or have the patience for a quick interaction (like marketing-oriented chat bots) in order to engage with them. 

AR's potential will supersede other technologies because of it's ability to be totally ubiquitous. In the near future, most of our AR experiences will be embedded on our mobile devices, meeting us where we already are--in our apps on our phones. It seamlessly integrates into our existing digital experiences.

SnapChat Lenses and Apple's Animoji are great examples of how we can use front facing cameras to produce amusing AR experiences in our every day communication. 

3. Science & Education

AR has an amazing potential to supplement our limited brain capacity and sensory experiences, altering the reality of the human experience, and pushing the boundaries of our capabilities as humans. 

Star Chart annotates the night sky to show stars, moons, and planets above you, making you an instant astronomer. Google Translate now uses your phone camera to annotate foreign text. AccuVein is a portable device that projects a map of a patients vascular system on the skins surface, to increase accuracy in vein puncturing procedures--decreasing patient pain and frequency of complications during vein puncturing procedures. 

Within the next year, we'll start to see AR being used to expand the limitations of our cognition.

4. Military

Lastly, as with all cutting-edge technologies throughout history, AR will be used to to develop advanced military tools. There are already a few examples of how this is happening today.

A Synthetic Training Environment (STE) is an immersive AR training experience designed to place soldiers in virtual scenarios, stressing them physically and mentally. This project is still under development as a joint venture between the US Army Research Laboratory, University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Combined Arms Center-Training and Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. 

The GunnAR Helmet is another AR training tool that enables soldiers in training to identify, track, and fire upon targets. It also enables the soldier to see in full infrared suite, the HUD lets you know when to track, follow, and fire, and it feeds real time video to whoever wants to watch in first person. 

The future of AR looks promising. As it moves into the mainstream consciousness and as our devices continue to evolve to handle the new technology, the growth and development of augmented experiences will grow exponentially. Designers and developers will continue pushing AR beyond purely entertainment purposes, and further into the types of applications that make us better at being human. These types of applications have the potential to not only augment the reality of our existence, but to fundamentally change what it is to be a human.

Published on: Nov 30, 2017