Augmented reality — a group of technologies that marry the virtual world with the real one — has been around for decades, and has traditionally required the use of expensive and specialized equipment. But the proliferation of smartphones that have cameras, displays, and even GPS and other sensors on them has enabled a whole host of new mobile applications — Soundwalk, Wikitude and Layar, for example — that offer a glimpse at how online digital information and offline physical worlds could be combined. With such tools, virtual and real worlds have moved one step closer to one another.
But we are set to move much further. Over the next decade, augmented reality will shift toward “mixed reality,” enabling immersive applications and shared experiences that will change how computers are positioned in our lives. The latest GigaOM Pro report, “3-D Computing: From Digital Cinema to GPUs,” (subscription required) outlines some of the coming changes in:
- Display Technologies. From movie theaters and home monitors to computer displays and even mobile Internet devices, the ability to see and experience content in real 3-D — with and without glasses— will become a common feature. We predict that more than 1 million 3-D digital signs (try not to think of “Minority Report”) will ship by 2014.
- Interfaces. Keyboards and mice will no longer be primary modes of input. Instead, cameras will go beyond simple image or video capture functions to become virtual eyes through which gestures and other physical information will be transmitted. Combined with voice understanding and scanners, acquisition and navigation in real 3-D space will become easy.
- Computing Technology. New computing demands will be placed on our systems that call for a greater emphasis on visual computing, high-speed networks and software. IBM, Apple, Google and even Microsoft are beginning to embed the frameworks required to enable real 3-D computing interfaces and applications on their platforms.
- Business Process. Online collaboration is moving from web conferencing to video and there are many successful pilots underway with enterprise virtual worlds. Vertical industries like the military, education and even health care are poised to take advantage of these technology advances to use virtual 3-D worlds to bridge time and space obstacles in their operations.
The evolution of augmented reality — and 3-D technology in general — is fostering a convergence of the real and virtual worlds unlike anything we have seen in history. We believe this convergence represents the opportunity of a lifetime for those that can find ways to harness its power and bring new, innovative products and services to the marketplace.