Augmented Reality: The Future is Ready to Download

In our previous exploration of augmented reality technology, Inside the Innovative Mind: Virtual & Augmented Reality, we took a look at the origins of AR and how it might evolve in ways that connect people to their surroundings in new and innovative ways. Today, less than a year later, the explosion of AR apps is already offering a broad range of new experiences to users. From enhanced gameplay in real-world environments to consumer/product interactions and even clinical applications in medicine and pharmacology, AR is making incredible strides.

Let’s take a look at some of the products of this new technology that are reshaping how we interact with the world around us.

Moving Beyond Novelty

As is often the case for pioneering technology, the first mainstream Augmented Reality applications were concerned with entertainment. In fact, most consumers probably first experienced AR through Niantic’s Pokémon Go, an update of the late-90s handheld game in which players hunt and capture a variety of creatures. An unexpected worldwide phenomenon, the game was integrated with mobile cameras to allow users to explore real-world environments in search of Pokémon to collect, train, and upgrade. While the novelty wore off rather quickly for most players, its initial success introduced a wide variety of consumers to the basics of AR.

There are scores of AR games now available, ranging from simple object stacking challenges to immersive worlds in the style of Pokémon Go. It turns out that swapping pocket-sized monsters for aliens, zombies, and even ghosts (in the Ghostbusters AR game) is an easy way to capture an audience. While these games solidify the public’s interest in new technology and AR-enabled experiences, the applications of the technology have moved far beyond novelty.

A New Brand Experience

Many major brands have begun to explore ways to use augmented reality to give consumers a taste of their products or lifestyle, a shrewd marketing maneuver that is changing the way we interact with brands. Swedish furniture superstore Ikea has embraced VR with its Ikea Place, developed with Apple’s ARKit technology. The app allows users to virtually place Ikea furniture in their homes (scaling products to consumer’s room dimensions with 98% accuracy), giving them the opportunity to redecorate without commitment. And once they’ve found the right fit, they’re just a few clicks away from placing an order.

Similarly, L’Oreal has developed several apps that allow consumers to “try before they buy.” The apps Makeup Genius and Style My Hair allow users to superimpose different styles and colors onto their faces before making a purchase. When deployed in this way, AR not only creates new, branded experiences for consumers, it can provide brands access to a treasure trove of data about consumer preferences. With more brands joining the AR bandwagon, we’ll soon see a more sophisticated feedback loop in which consumer’s in-app behavior impacts product development and marketing trends.

Healthcare Applications Abound

Despite all of the ways in which VR is impacting entertainment and consumer-brand relationships, some of the most exciting developments are in the healthcare arena, where VR technology is enabling many advancements in diagnosing and communicating with patients. For instance, the app EyeDecide can help ophthalmologists more accurately diagnose and educate patients by showing them simulations of various conditions and their impact on vision. By closing the gap between doctors and patients, AR enables better communication about symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment.

The digital production studio Amplified Robot turned their attention to health education by developing AR visualizations of the effects of prescription drugs on the human body. This development allows doctors and patients to skip the often indecipherable language on pill bottles and instead witness how exactly a particular medication interacts with the body. Helping patients understand how and why their medication works encourages adherence to treatment protocols and better long-term health.

Patients aren’t the only ones learning from augmented reality, however. Medical students now benefit from AR technology as well. The Cleveland Clinic recently partnered with Microsoft to use its HoloLens technology to allow students to interact with 3D patient visualizations as they learn about patient care. As Fortune reports, “using new technologies like augmented reality can enhance a student’s ability to understand complex information about diseases and treatment.”

The Future is Here

The proliferation of AR technology is opening new frontiers in fields from entertainment to marketing and product development to medical education and practice. While augmented reality apps are popping up in new and exciting arenas, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of how this technology will impact our future. At Eidson & Partners, we’re excited to witness the innovative ways in which augmented reality will reshape our perception of the world around us and beyond.

The challenge for innovators is clear: how can we embrace the opportunity to interact with our environment in new ways that entertain, educate, and expand the boundaries of human experience and connection?

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