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IMC Trend Guide: Augmented Reality - Can you see what I see?

13. January 2015

How important are Digitalization and Augmented Reality in today's world and what's their role for the future? Members of the digital avant-garde may well ask why they should renounce their digital devices at any point during their daily routine. Why not use digital devices to live, work and travel if we have the technology available?

These days, if you suddenly had to go to a travel agency to book your summer holiday, or if you had to organize your shopping around local store opening hours, it would almost feel as if you had travelled backwards in time.
And although some complain about the time kids spend on devices and about always feeling connected to work emails, more people actually appreciate the benefits of the increasing digitalization of our everyday lives and feel 'at home' within the Augmented Reality of the World Wide Web, which they are often helping to shape as they use it.

Home is where the W-LAN is ? an upward trend!

Large-scale surveys such as the Life study ordered by Deutsche Telekom show that the trend toward digitalization has become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Today, young Europeans are setting an example when it comes to maintaining friendships online, creating digital photo albums for their families or doing their banking with one click.

How does Augmented Reality work?

Those who believe that our digital and analogous lives belong to two different worlds are absolutely wrong. Over the last few years, we've seen the internet gradually becoming part of the physically tangible world. The internet now interacts with, comments on and changes the world we live in and has a strong influence on how we perceive our environment. Augmented Reality (AR) in effect could be viewed as nothing less than a utopia come true for visionaries and technology fans who have been dreaming of exactly this reality for decades.
The basic principle of Augmented Reality is quite simple: via the internet and a suitable physical medium such as a smartphone or data glasses, for example, the user receives information which would not be attainable otherwise. This information is normally provided as visual content such as images, directions or text; however, the provision of audio elements or motor-operated input is also possible. An illustrative example of this comes from the American hotel chain Mariott, which uses so-called Oculus-Rift technology to introduce a new dimension of "sensual marketing": adventurous potential customers are equipped with a pair of glasses which create a holiday atmosphere by projecting a heater (sunbeams) onto the wearer's face and also imitates a gentle sea breeze via a "mini hair dryer".

Is Augmented Reality actually important or is it just a means to have fun?

Examples such as the one above might make people smile, but do the wearers of the Oculus-Rift glasses really believe that they are on a tropical holiday or do they just think that the idea is a bit of a gimmick? And is this really everything that can be done with Augmented Reality?
The answer is no, at least to the second question! We are already beginning to see universal societal benefits as one outcome of Augmented Reality. A simple smartphone app for instance is now available to show confused dementia patients their way home, while in the near future, a virtual windshield will receive important information from your smartphone and navigation system to help make driving safer. Other examples are intelligent office chairs which plan to supervise the sitting posture of workers by means of a linked camera and which issue a warning if an incorrect sitting position is observed, or if guideposts and road signs are destroyed in a crisis area, the demolished landmarks could potentially be digitally reconstructed by means of GPS signals.
British artist Julian Oliver shows that highly creative scenarios are also a big part of what can be done with Augmented Reality: he is currently working on a device, similar to a pair of binoculars, which detects advertising space in public areas and instantly replaces it with art work. Oliver calls his revolutionary concept "art for the visual cortex".


Potential of Augmented Reality for E-learning

For the innovation-driven e-learning industry in particular, Augmented Reality is a topic which is being closely watched as the technology presents great opportunities for industries such as manufacturing, processing and logistics. However, the technical potential is still much higher than what is already in use. Instead of the existing practice of scanning QR codes for information on a specific machine or a production part, for example, it could be possible to equip every employee with a pair of data glasses where a chain of operations can be visualized on the integrated display. With this device, the user would only need to look at a certain component to view the next logical work step. The benefit for L&D is obvious: within the foreseeable future, Augmented Reality could replace the majority of face-to-face training and create an individual learning atmosphere attuned to the learning speed of the user. The device could even have the potential to detect sudden danger or warning signs which would result in a significant improvement of quality standards in industrial production processes. Major enterprises such as DHL have recognised the enormous potential of Augmented Reality for the continued education of their employees and are currently investing huge sums to promote the technology and test which application scenarios prove worthwhile in practice and which do not.
Augmented Reality is also perfectly suited to serious game applications. It is easy to imagine Augmented Reality scenarios for professions where it is important to train employees to react to certain events or emergency situations. Industries that could benefit might be the police force, fire department or medical professions, and in particular roles where quick reactions and immediately accessible knowledge are required. Learners would be able to boost their confidence through practice-oriented training that is both efficient AND fun! It's not inconceivable to imagine the future of medicine entailing young doctors preparing for their first encounter with a patient in a virtual clinic with an avatar responding to input from a serious game.
IMC has also recognised the huge potential of the Augmented Reality trend and is focusing its development of possible application areas within the framework of several research and customer projects.
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