- Augmented reality headsets are set to overtake smartphones in the mobile device category.
- Museums are using applications that visually overlay information directly onto artifacts.
- AR systems could someday provide "super-human" abilities or senses to users, allowing them to visualize otherwise invisible electromagnetic or physical signals.
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You could soon trade in your smartphone for an augmented reality headset.
The augmented reality (AR) market is expected to generate global revenue of $152 billion by the end of 2030, making it the hottest selling mobile device, according to a new report by GlobalData, a data analytics company. The increasing interest in AR is a sign that the technology is maturing, experts say.
"In the not-too-distant future, we could all be wearing AR glasses, which companies like Apple and Facebook hope will replace our computer screens, TV screens, and well, screens in general," Aaron Gordon, the CEO of video production company Optic Sky, told Lifewire in an email interview.
"Say goodbye to 'tech neck' and accidentally stepping into traffic; in this version of the near future, we will all be 'heads up' at last, no longer gazing downward into our phones."
In the report, GlobalData predicted that AR was perceived as the most disruptive technology, ahead of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
"AR is making the leap from gaming and e-commerce to shake up new sectors, including education," Rupantar Guha, a project manager at GlobalData, said in a news release. "It will help convert traditional, textbook-based learning practices into visual, interactive, and immersive experiences."
AR allows users to see useful or entertaining virtual things in the real world around them, Gregory Welch, an IEEE senior member and co-director of the University of Central Florida Synthetic Reality Laboratory, told Lifewire in an email interview. The most common approach is to augment the user’s view of the real world via a handheld smartphone or a head-worn display.
"An example of a useful AR application for an average personal user is turn-by-turn navigation," Welch said. "With a traditional (non-AR) navigation app on a phone, the user has to switch between looking at the map on their phone and the real world. In some situations, this can be cumbersome or inconvenient."
"In other situations—e.g., while driving—it can be dangerous," Welch continued. "AR-based navigation visually overlays the turn-by-turn annotations directly onto the user’s normal view of the real world to remove the need for this back and forth."
Museums and galleries also are jumping into AR. Educational applications can visually overlay information directly onto museum artifacts or public objects of interest.
"This liberates the user from having to switch between their smartphone and the object of interest and makes it easier to mentally correlate the virtual information with the real object," Welch said.
Medical practitioners are increasingly using AR to assist with medical procedures. "For example, surgeons can use AR to visualize CT or MRI data directly 'inside' the patient to help them better carry out the procedure," Welch said.
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Superpowers via AR
AR headsets are getting smaller and more powerful. As they become more ubiquitous, some experts think they could revolutionize the way we see the world.
Welch said that AR systems could someday provide "super-human" abilities or senses to users, such as allowing them to visualize otherwise invisible electromagnetic or physical signals, including thermal, radio, radar, or magnetic fields. AR systems could let us see behind ourselves and see-through buildings and other objects.
"Future AR glasses could be used to improve personal health and well-being in general," Welch said. "And aid some specific impairments, like helping to correct certain visual impairments or help with vision therapy."
As AR evolves, it will allow us to mix virtual and everyday tasks, Jesse Easdon, the director of technology at the VR company WIN Reality, told Lifewire in an email interview.
"Imagine an app that allows you to easily find that unique item in a large store, in a matter of seconds, or to attend a live sports event, with stats overlaid on top of the athletes as they play," he said. "Or even more impactful, the ability to find the nearest defibrillator in an unfamiliar place during an emergency."