You may already be familiar with the game Pokémon Go. You move around with your mobile phone and – provided you’re looking through the smartphone’s camera feature – virtual animals pop up all around you. It’s like having a virtual object – the Pokémon – added to reality. This is called augmented reality, or AR.
But what would happen if you could see these Pokémon through your glasses? And suppose you could touch them or smell them, etc. Or what about if you could try out a new armchair in your sitting room without it actually being there? Or if an artist could create a virtual piece of art in the gallery where it will be on display and then – once finished – send it to a 3D printer to make it ‘real’? Or suppose during an operation on your intestines the surgeon could use AR glasses to obtain additional information about the site of the tumor that needs to be cut out?
Augmented reality can be of great value in so many areas. But only on condition that the AR glasses themselves look fashionable and ‘normal’, that they can be worn all day long without having to be recharged, that they are connected wirelessly to the cloud so that they can retrieve a range of information quickly and then filter out only the right data – and, of course, that we can use them very intuitively.
We already have virtual reality (VR) glasses. These are fully enclosed headsets that immerse us in a world that is simulated from A to Z. They are used mainly for gaming and will probably always remain limited to niche applications.
But AR glasses are the next revolution. They enable us to receive extra information and/or see virtual objects in addition to the real environment. And while at the moment our interaction with electronics is restricted mainly to sight and sound, AR glasses will appeal to many more of our senses: touch, taste, smell and balance.
Then, with the passage of time, we will also be able to throw our AR glasses away when we start seeing holograms appear around us. Might that be a hologram of a Pokémon (or even a dinosaur!) or a business partner on the other side of the world? The choice is yours!