Augmented Reality Vs. Virtual Reality: What Are The Differences?

With recent tech developments, it’s common to get involved in heated augmented reality vs. virtual reality debates with peers. After all, both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have made significant strides in recent years. And you’ll often come across those that have picked their favorite between the two.

But is one truly better than the other, or is media hype affecting our opinions? The hard truth is that neither technology is better than the other. And while they may seem similar on the surface, they have entirely different use cases.

A user that puts on a pair of AR glasses has completely different needs and expectations than someone that dons VR goggles. Even the technologies themselves have specific features and limitations that set them apart. The keen observer will discover many benefits of augmented reality, which are missing in virtual reality. On the flip side, an avid gamer may become one of the VR faithful due to the abundance of virtual reality games

Therefore, we decided to point out the most significant differences between augmented reality vs. virtual reality in this handy guide. Here, you’ll learn what each technology brings to the table and where and when you should choose one over the other.

Augmented Reality Vs. Virtual Reality: A Brief History Lesson

The first known example of augmented reality dates back to 1957. Morton Heilig — a cinematographer — created the Sensorama, capable of delivering visuals, sounds, smells, and even vibrations. Computers were very bulky and expensive during that period, so the Senosrama didn’t use them at all. Instead, it offered viewers a rudimentary analog experience. 

But over the next few decades, this type of technology evolved considerably. In 1975, the American computer scientist; Myron Krueger created the first interface that allowed users to interact with virtual objects in real-time. And in 1980, the Canadian engineer and transhumanist; Steve Mann invented wearable computing devices, such as the EyeTap Digital Eye Glass, Smartwatch, and the Sequential Wave Imprinting Machine (SWIM). 

In contrast, the first example of virtual reality dates back to the early part of the 1800s. And that’s not surprising, as this was a period when photography was gaining traction. Inventions such as the stereoscope, which used twin mirrors to create a single image, captured peoples’ imaginations back in 1838. 

Then, the stereoscope was developed further and became the View-Master. It was patented in 1939 and became a popular kid’s toy due to how well it displayed 3D images.

And in the mid-1980s, former Atari employee and VPL Research founder; Jaron Lanier coined the term “virtual reality”. His company was also the first to sell VR goggles and the accompanying wired gloves. 

However, Virtuality Group was the first company to bring VR to the masses in 1991. They produced various products like the Virtuality 1000 series, powered by an Amiga 3000 computer and capable of delivering virtual reality games. These Virtuality machines made their way to arcades, expos, techno raves, and shopping malls during the ‘90s.

Which Companies Are Involved In AR & VR?

Several big players, startups, and studios understand the benefits of augmented reality and are actively involved in bringing forth AR experiences and technologies. These include Apple, Facebook, Gravity Jack, Groove Jones, Google, Microsoft, Next/Now, Niantic, and VironIT, to name a few. And many of the same entities are also involved in VR.

But it’s not out of the ordinary for studios to offer AR, VR, and even mobile app development services, similarly to NS804. And that makes sense since development methodologies, technologies, and skill sets overlap comfortably on both AR & VR projects. 

And then, there’s Valve Corporation, the famous game developer and owner of the PC digital megastore — Steam. For a while, Valve seemed to focus more on the VR side of things with their Valve Index headset, even though it’s more than capable of doubling up as an AR system. But in 2021, a Valve patent revealed that the company plans to bring a unique AR technology to PC gamers.

What Are The Differences Between AR And VR Headsets? 

One of the benefits of augmented reality is that users don’t need to wear headsets for specific applications. Many popular mobile apps and games utilize the phone camera to display the outside world to viewers — but with a twist! Instead of the same mundane world that users see in real life, they see a more colorful and imaginative world on their phones. 

AR development studios utilize striking user interfaces (UIs) and graphics, which they overlay on the imagery feeding through the camera. Now, users can interact with the onscreen UI and graphical assets, enjoying unique experiences that were not possible before the advent of AR. 

Of course, some users may prefer to wear AR glasses, as these enhance immersion. But their view is not obstructed like would happen if they were wearing VR goggles. 

And on the subject of VR goggles, they’re essential for enjoying any virtual reality experience. The user is closed off from the surrounding environment and has no view of the outside world. For some, this may seem like a scary, claustrophobic, or even downright anti-social technology.

But it’s worth overcoming these concerns and fears, as nothing matches the immersion that VR offers. Furthermore, the design choices of modern VR goggles account for the comfort, health, and safety of users. 

In a nutshell, AR glasses or headsets closely resemble ordinary reading glasses. And VR goggles still retain some bulkiness and wiring, mainstays from yesteryear’s Virtuality headsets. But as VR technology evolves and matures, we can expect headsets to get lighter and smaller in size.

What Do Users Expect From AR And VR Experiences? 

AR users feel more comfortable interacting with the outside world. Moreover, they’re avid smartphone users and utilize a variety of helpful apps for their daily tasks. So, an AR user that travels regularly will use an app such as World Around Me to pinpoint landmarks and tourist attractions. 

Another way such a user would utilize an AR app is when deciding on future purchases. For example, they may use the IKEA Place app to see what a true-to-scale wall unit from IKEA looks like in their apartment. And with more clothing brands releasing AR apps, it’s a convenient way to try out those nice pair of jeans without having to go near a changing room.

Alternatively, VR users feel more comfortable with bleeding-edge technology. These users crave the VR experiences promised by cyberpunk movies, novels, and video games over the past four decades. They want to feel like one of the protagonists in a William Gibson novel or Neo from the Matrix films. 

Many VR users also own powerful custom-built PCs to run the latest and most graphically demanding virtual reality games. They’re the epitome of the power user that always stays ahead of the curve. 

However, VR does not only benefit gaming. It also plays a role in architecture and design, medical training, military training, and real estate tours, as just a few noteworthy examples. So, VR brings forth several tangible real-world solutions to any market or discipline that requires a powerful simulation tool.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, we’ve addressed the most crucial augmented reality vs. virtual reality differences and arguments. Both AR and VR are continuously evolving, and we’ve yet to see their true potential.

In the case of AR, it’s the more approachable technology since there’s no need to purchase an expensive headset, and it doesn’t shut off the user from the outside world. But VR is the more bleeding-edge and immersive technology and ideal for gaming and simulations. 

But one thing’s for sure, the tech industry’s big players and forward-thinking studios are heavily involved in both AR & VR.

Contact NS804 to learn how we’ll help you create phenomenal AR & VR apps that will amaze your users. We have offices in Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, and Denver, CO to assist you in building the app you need.

What The Metaverse Means For Developers

If you regularly follow tech media outlets, you’ve likely heard of the metaverse. But even if you haven’t, recent announcements by the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, turned heads. He launched an ambitious initiative that will transform the social media giant into an all-encompassing metaverse company. Now that’s big news that no developer can ignore!

But will the metaverse live up to expectations, or is it only hype? While we don’t have a crystal ball to predict its future, many big players want to make the metaverse a part of our lives. We’ve seen how the internet, smartphones, and cryptocurrencies gained support early on and now enjoy wide adoption. Thus, the metaverse may enjoy a similar fate and open up many exciting opportunities for developers.

What Exactly Is The Metaverse?

If you’ve played an immersive 3D game or tried out virtual reality (VR), you’ve experienced something akin to the metaverse. A better example is Second Life, an online virtual world dating back to 2003. It combined gameplay aspects from massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and social space for users to interact with each other. 

Yet what made Second Life so compelling is how users could craft clothes and other goods for their 3D avatars and sell these to others. Many savvy content creators took advantage of this and started selling their virtual goods within Second Life’s marketplace. Thus, giving birth to an early model of a digital economy that functioned independently from exterior influences. 

And you could also say that Second Life is the granddaddy of the modern metaverse. But there are a few differences, as the metaverse doesn’t rely on an MMORPG as its core component and doesn’t have the limited appeal of Second Life. After all, not everyone is a gamer, and many users would prefer to trade virtual goods or provide other services instead.

What Can Users Do In The Metaverse

We’ve already established the metaverse is like a giant virtual sandbox that allows for many forms of user interaction. And a key reason why Facebook is moving in this direction is that it’s a natural evolutionary process for the company. It already engages over 2.9 billion active users that interact with each other and conduct business directly on Facebook.

So every social media outlet and any business that engages with these outlets will give users the necessary tools to interact within the metaverse. In a way, they will democratize the creation process of virtual goods and services for the masses. 

Architects can create and sell virtual real estate, while artists and designers can turn their creations into non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and sell them at auctions. Furthermore, advertisers and fashion brands can use the floor space and shops within the metaverse’s virtual malls. And due to the easy integration of blockchain technologies, expect crypto transactions to become commonplace.

What Opportunities Should Developers Pursue? 

Developers should focus on blockchain technology and crypto APIs. These must work flawlessly with any virtual stores found in the metaverse. And make it easy for users to conduct transactions via any device, whether a smartphone or virtual headset.

But there are also many opportunities for creating the tools that will empower users. Easy-to-use 3D modeling apps, NFT minting tools, and secure crypto exchanges will be essential. On top of that, create apps that allow users to trade virtual goods, hire virtual laborers, and host virtual events.

In Conclusion

The metaverse is still in its infancy but promises big things thanks to the support coming from Epic Games, Facebook, and Microsoft. And it may very well become the next big thing that opens doors for creative and savvy developers. Contact NS804 to learn how we’ll help you create stunning apps for smartphones and the metaverse.

Choosing An Engine For Your Mobile Game, AR, Or VR App

Whether you’re making a mobile game, an AR, or a VR app, you’ll need to choose the right tools for the job. You may prefer to develop your own custom tools or opt for off-the-shelf solutions to save money and time. We’ll focus on the latter and reveal the game engines that can bring your app ideas to fruition. 

1. Why You Need A Game Engine For Developing Interactive Experiences

Creating interactive experiences such as games, AR, and VR apps is usually a lot harder than developing standard applications. Developers often spend thousands of hours developing, debugging and testing their interactive applications before deployment. With the right tools, they can reduce their costs and time to market (TTM) significantly. And the most suitable tools for making interactive applications are game engines. 

What a good game engine brings to the table is a suite of tools that properly integrate with one and another and third-party tools. These tools may include an animator component, audio mixer, content management system, scene graph, shader graph, scripting language, level editor, mesh editor, and tilemap editor, to name a few. While any talented development team can custom develop all these tools themselves, it’s a costly and time-consuming process. 

But what makes modern commercial game engines so compelling is their ability to export projects to all the most popular platforms with a single click. Thus, it’s no longer necessary to use multiple programming languages and toolchains when targeting more than one platform.

2. Not All Engines Are Created Equal

The two most popular game engines on the market at the moment are Unity and Unreal Engine. And there’s a good reason for this, as both offer the most comprehensive and robust suite of tools than their competitors. Furthermore, the companies behind these engines, namely, Unity Technologies and Epic Games, are well-funded and invest heavily in their respective flagship tools.

However, the game engine development space doesn’t stand still, and there’s a growing number of alternatives in the market. In recent years, the open-source Godot engine has made significant inroads in this space. It’s a more lightweight alternative to Unity that offers comparable features and tools, especially for developing 2D games. Yet, it doesn’t quite match Unity’s 3D, AR, and VR capabilities and export to as many platforms.

3. Costs Of Using Commercial Engines

The game engine market is incredibly competitive, and that’s forced companies to rethink their pricing policies in recent years. Both Unity and Unreal Engine have a free tier aimed at indie developers that operate on a shoestring budget.

With Unity Personal, an individual or small team development team doesn’t have to pay a cent if they earn less than $ 100,000 in 12 months. And if they make more than that amount, they’ll have to upgrade to the Plus or Pro tier. Unity Plus requires that the developer pay $ 399 per year for one seat, and Unity Pro costs $ 1,800 per year for one seat.

On the other hand, Unreal Engine has an entirely different licensing and pricing model. Developers can choose either the Creators or Publishing License, which are both free to use. Those working on custom, free, internal, or linear projects should choose the Creators License. And for those developing off-the-shelve interactive experiences should opt for the Publishing License. The latter requires that developers pay 5% royalty if their products earn over $ 1 million gross revenue during their lifetime.

4. Cross-Platform Considerations

Most modern game engines make it possible to export to a wide variety of platforms. Both Unity and Unreal Engine development teams work closely with all the leading platform holders. When new game consoles, mobile devices, AR, or VR headsets hit the market, Unity and Unreal Engine will almost always support these from the get-go. So, if you plan to target multiple platforms and future-proof your upcoming project, then you can’t go wrong with either engine.

5. When To Choose An Open Source Engine Over A Commercial Game Engine

In most cases, you’ll want to work with a commercial engine vendor, as they’ll regularly provide the features, updates, and support you’ll need. But an open-source engine could have certain unique features and tooling that’s more suitable for your project. Ultimately, you’ll want to complete your project quickly and efficiently, so choose the right tool for the job. 

An open-source engine also allows you to view and change its code, which isn’t possible with most commercial game engines. For example, Unity feels like a black box to most developers because they don’t have access to its source code and can’t comprehend the engine’s inner workings.

6. Why Unity Is The Most Popular Mobile Game Development Tool

Unity has gained a reputation for being a beginner-friendly engine and attracts many would-be mobile game developers. And with the Unity Asset Store, it’s easy for developers to download free and paid 3D models, game kits, sprites, sound clips, scripts, and various other assets to complete their projects quickly and cost-effectively.

Nowadays, over 50% of mobile games have been made with Unity, solidifying the engine’s dominance in this market segment. Furthermore, Unity makes it easy to integrate a wide variety of ad APIs and monetization components and distribute Android games worldwide via a single hub.  

7. How Unreal Engine Can Bring Your AR & VR Ideas To Life

Now, Unity’s an adequately powerful engine that should meet the needs of most developers. And the Unity development team has made great strides in improving its performance in recent years. However, it doesn’t quite match the performance and visual fidelity of the Unreal Engine, which is used extensively by triple-A game developers. 

If you’re planning on developing an AR or VR app that requires photorealistic 3D visuals, then Unreal Engine is your best bet! And since Unreal Engine users have access to the Quixel Megascan library, it’s a relatively quick and painless process to get hold of various high-quality 3D assets. Moreover, the engine’s versatility makes it a great choice for developers working on architectural, automotive, broadcast, film, and simulation projects.

8. What Development Environments Are Available For ARCore?

With the growing popularity of AR, both Apple and Google have released powerful technologies to help developers. In Google’s case, they’ve released ARCore, which facilitates the creation of compelling AR applications. It’s designed so that developers don’t need extensive knowledge of OpenGL or rendering to bring their applications to life. Furthermore, ARCore seamlessly integrates environmental understanding, light estimation, and motion tracking components.

But what’s of great interest to developers is how ARCore works with their favorite development environments. It fully supports Android Studio and Android NDK and interfaces with Apple’s ARKit to provide iOS support via Cloud Anchors and Augmented Faces. Also, Google provides an ARCore plugin and SDK for Unity and an ARCore plugin for Unreal Engine.

9. Why You Should Work With A Development Partner

It’s no easy task creating an engaging mobile game or a trailblazing AR application. Thus, you’ll need the expertise of a development partner that understands the intricacies of custom development. The right partner will choose the right engine and tools to complete your project as efficiently as possible. And advise you throughout the planning, development, and deployment phases of your app to ensure its success. Contact us today to learn how NS804 can help you create exciting interactive experiences using the latest technologies.

What You Need Before Commencing With iOS App Development

There’s much to be said about iOS app development. And that’s because it’s one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences afforded to developers and appreneurs. Not only has Apple created an awe-inspiring ecosystem with over a billion users, but they have provided developers with excellent tools to create their apps.

Apple’s Xcode IDE and Swift programming language allow talented developers to bring their ideas to life — ideas that can potentially change people’s lives for the better. But creating amazing apps is only half of the battle. It’s equally challenging to plan, design, market, respond to market demands, and attain long-term user retention

Thus, it’s crucial to have a bird’s-eye view of the entire iOS app development process before forging ahead. No matter how fired up your team may be about the upcoming iOS project, it’s essential to have a clear picture of what to expect. After all, iOS apps cost a lot to develop and maintain, and you’ll want to avoid making expensive mistakes. Below, we take a deep dive into what you need to know before commencing work on your iOS app.

What It Costs To Develop And Market An iOS App In 2022

Developing an iOS app today is not cheap by any stretch. Expect to pay between $40,000 and $60,000 for a simple app and up to $100,000 for a native-developed app. And for a complex app, expect to pay $300,000 or more.

Then, you’ll need to consider the yearly costs of maintaining your app. The industry standard is about 20% of the initial cost of development. For example, if you’ve already spent $50,000 on your app, you’ll need approximately $10,000 per year to cover maintenance costs.

But in today’s highly-competitive iOS app market, developing an app and simply releasing it seldom leads to success. Without an effective marketing strategy, it’s unlikely that your app will reach its target audience. 

It costs between $5,000 and $15,000 to conduct app market research and up to $5,000 for beta testing. If you hire a marketing agency, expect to pay up to $25,000 for each iOS app. And if you decide to work with influencers, you may pay between $10,000 and $18,000 per month.

Also, there are app action costs that further inflate the marketing budget. Average Cost Per Install (CPI) and Cost Per Action (CPA) hovers at around $3.50 per install or registration. But after attaining users, it’s vital to focus on user retention. An effective way to do this is with push notifications that increase user loyalty and reduce churn. Expect to pay between $30 and $250 per month for push notification services.

App Updates Increase User Retention 

Apple always throws show-stopping events that delight its loyal fanbase and its competitors attempt to emulate. Savvy developers often capitalize on the fanfare of these events and whenever Apple introduces new hardware or app updates. These developers will tie their updates together with Apple’s to show their users that they’re staying ahead of the curve.

But app updates also act as a powerful marketing tool if used correctly. With each update, every developer gains another opportunity to engage and delight users. They can make announcements about their update via their App Store page, social media channels, and website. Furthermore, they can reach out to the press, bloggers, and influencers to inform their respective audiences.

If this update contains exciting and indispensable features, users will take notice. And may entice those that have never used the app before to download it out of curiosity. If the updated app meets or surpasses their expectations, it will increase the user base and drive further growth.  

Ultimately, these updates show that the developer is invested in the app and cares about providing value to users. Moreover, these updates remind users that the app still exists and is evolving with their needs.

Respond To Increasing Security Demands

Compared to many of its big tech rivals, Apple has a reasonably good track record regarding security. That’s commendable, considering the increase in cybersecurity breaches recently. And with more people working online, there’s a greater demand for hardened security solutions that will protect users from hackers.  

Apple has responded accordingly by implementing strong security protocols and taking the necessary steps to protect user data. However, Apple can only do so much to protect users. Developers should also do their part by closely following best practices for application security.

Also, it’s wise to develop apps based on iOS 15’s enhanced security features. These include iCloud private relay, Intelligent Tracking Prevention, HomeKit Secure Video, Mail Privacy Protection, Secure Paste, and Two-factor Authentication Code Generator (2FA), to name a few. And you can introduce these features in your existing iOS applications via app updates.

iOS users have come to rely on many of these features and Apple’s security standards. It’s also what keeps them going back to the App Store and confidently downloading new apps. Therefore, your iOS app development endeavors should always have a strong focus on security, especially when dealing with sensitive information and payment details.

AR & VR Present New iOS App Development Opportunities

Users always seek experiences that excite and inspire them. That’s why Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) present a golden opportunity for creative developers to shine. And with the recent announcements regarding Meta and the Metaverse, there’s greater interest in virtual worlds than ever before. 

If you plan on creating an AR app for iOS, you may want to use Apple’s ARKit 5. It allows for the creation of impressive AR experiences in record time. Furthermore, it boasts advanced face tracking and motion capture features. And these are features that more businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies require for their apps.

Generally, there’s a growing trend of visually impactful apps reaching the market. Powerful tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine allow developers to create stunningly beautiful 3D visuals for their AR & VR projects. And with Apple’s rumored mixed reality headsets reaching the market in 2022, there’s never been a better time to explore this avenue.

Implement AI & ML In Your Latest iOS Apps

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will play a significant role in iOS app development moving forward. Until now, AI & ML were nice-to-have features in many mobile apps. But that’s changing since various industries require scalable self-learning applications to thrive.

AI & ML are indispensable for automation, cloud computing, chatbots, data analysis, deep learning, and facial recognition, to name a few. And there’s hardly a business or government institution that won’t use one or more of these processes to function effectively. These entities require intelligent humanlike decision-making to integrate with all their existing systems while operating at the speed of a machine.

In Conclusion

iOS app development continues to be fruitful for ambitious developers. But it’s important to embrace change and the many new opportunities that come with that. AI & ML, AR & VR, hardened security, and regular updates will play a crucial role on the iOS platform moving forward. 

And it’s equally important to plan and budget for your latest iOS app, as development is on the pricey side. Contact us today to learn how NS804 can help you create phenomenal iOS apps within budget and on time.

Can mixed reality give humans the edge over automation?

There’s a trend that’s been around since the dawn of the industrial revolution – if you can build a machine that automates the process of a worker (or workers), it will be more efficient in almost every way – cheaper, faster, and more accurate. At first, this trend wasn’t all that worrisome – while some jobs were made obsolete by automation, so many new fields and industries were created that workers had more job opportunities than ever before.

Like any new facet of technology, however, automation slowly (and then not so slowly) began advancing – taking a lot of jobs with it. But workers found a new avenue of growth through the rise of the service industry, and while manufacturing positions were pushed to the wayside, the economy found a way to capitalize on the trend of automation.

This automation, in the same manner as during the industrial revolution, opened up entirely new industries with millions of jobs to fill; the stand-out of the 2010’s being social media. The best part was, these jobs seemed future proof; the future was digital, and social media was a new form of digital communication by humans, for humans.

And then along came artificial intelligence.

If you had asked someone in the 90’s, 00’s, or even very early 10’s to imagine A.I., they’d probably have described a large supercomputer, housed in something akin to the datacenters integral to Silicon Valley and government digital operations around the world, calculating the great philosophical questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of time; What is the meaning of life? What is the true nature of the universe? Where do we fit in amongst all of this?

Well, it turns out that while A.I. isn’t to the point where it can answer with “42” yet, it is really good at doing tasks that were largely unexpected just a few years ago – like diagnosing medical conditions, driving cars, and even writing prose. Deep learning neural networks are just plain better at processing vast quantities of data when compared to humans, and more than likely, if there’s a task that is processed through a digital medium, A.I. will, with time, be better at that task than humans.

Social media algorithms are already wreaking havoc with elections across the world by influencing millions of users – and with much more efficiency and effectiveness than any marketing team could ever hope to achieve themselves.

If humans were, for instance, Batman, A.I. would be Bane – just as the dark knight merely adopted the darkness, humans adopted the method of processing data via a digital interface – A.I. was born into, and is better adapted to this digital environment. We’re like the first creatures to move from the sea to land; just as our lumbering ancestors struggled against gravity, we interact with digital mediums with very low input/output when compared to A.I. – most of the time, our input is our two thumbs, and our output is limited to the processing power of one brain.

A.I., on the other hand, inputs and processes information orders of magnitude faster than we can – it was designed to work with 1’s and 0’s, while we work within a whole host of sensory and emotional data. Plain and simple, given enough time, A.I. will replace almost every job that works within a medium provided by a computer.

Take, for instance, the Space-X December 2018 Falcon 9 landing failure. The re-usable rocket’s first stage had a malfunction during re-entry – the hydraulics that control the grid fins which stabilize the rocket stalled. The flight computer, which assesses the situation during re-entry, detected the malfunction, and went into a “safe” landing mode – meaning it aimed for the ocean, and not the pad. The flight computer is smart; if an ocean landing is impossible, it is programmed to avoid buildings and people. But what was truly astounding was the flight computer using algorithms to learn – in real time – a method to stop the seemingly out-of-control spin by using the rocket engines themselves.

This hadn’t been pre-programmed; the rocket took in data, processed it, and then improvised. Fully automated, without any input from ground control. Let that sink in for a second – the first stage of a re-usable rocket malfunctioned upon re-entry, and improvised a safe landing using methods of control it was not programmed to, in order to slow (and ultimately regain control of) its descent into the ocean – by itself.

If this were 2014, that would be the plot of a sci-fi short – not a widely covered news story.

Luckily for us slow-input humans, rocket landings aren’t an everyday occurrence (yet). There’s still jobs to fill, work to be done. There are still plenty of things humans do better than A.I. and robots. We still have time to develop ways to keep up (and frankly, in certain fields, catch-up) with A.I., robotics, and the ever-looming presence of automation.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MxR), as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 exemplifies, might be our method for keeping up with the advancement of automation in the near future.

Our edge against automation

As Boston Dynamic’s Spotmini has shown us, robots, just like velociraptors, can now open doors – or moonwalk, if you prefer. Atlas can backflip, turn 180 degrees in the air, and even run. But we’re still a lot better at this kind of stuff than robots. We’re much more adaptable – while a robot surgeon has higher dexterity than a human surgeon, it’s not going to build a car anytime soon. But with enough training, a human could become proficient at both surgery and auto repair.

But that training takes time, which takes money. If a manufacturer can spend $100,000 on a machine that takes the place of a human worker, they will – and a large part of that is due to the robot requiring zero on-the-job training.

Where automation is limited (for now, at least) is the number of functions a single robot can perform. Tesla’s Gigafactory, which was built with the idea of one day being fully automated, exemplifies this with its cautionary tales of too much automation too soon.

There’s no doubt humans are more adaptable than computers – we came to be the dominate species on this globe for a reason – so what would happen if we could learn almost as fast as A.I. algorithms?

First, when universal A.I. comes about, this is all null and void – there’s no way we could keep up with an intelligence like that – but for now, MxR might be what gives humans the edge over automation.

We’ve covered the enterprise applications of AR before – but with the release of the HoloLens 2, the power of MxR is becoming rapidly apparent. There have already been a lot of cool methods for bringing MxR into manufacturing, but due to the wearable, hands-free nature of the HoloLens, MxR is now a truly viable option.

First of all, you wear HoloLens on your head, and when it’s not in use, you can flip it up, akin to a welder’s mask. Microsoft put a lot of time and effort to make sure it was comfortable, allowing workers to wear it for extended periods of time.

The actual area on which images are projected (called the field of view) is larger than the HoloLens 1, which was released in 2015, made possible by mirrors called MEMS that project visual data at 120 FPS. There have been many other improvements since then as well – a big one being the reduced weight of the HoloLens 2 – and, unlike larger AR rigs, it can provide workers with in-the-field, real-time MxR experiences. Other workers can see what the HoloLens wearer can see via cameras, and highlight objects in real-time. Eye tracking helps to focus in on objects the wearer is looking at, and learns to predict what users will find interesting. Cnet’s Ian Sherr and Scott Stein described this predictive feature as feeling like “practical magic” and that is was almost like having your mind read. These eye-tracking cameras can even read the wearer’s emotions, and can detect who is wearing them – allowing shared headsets to switch from one user to the next without spending valuable time setting up personal options. The wearer can even manipulate virtual objects with their hands.

Ian Sherr and Scott Stein, who are not auto mechanics, were put in front of an ATV in need of repair, as a demo of the HoloLens at Microsoft’s headquarters. They were able to fix it in a short period of time with real-time instructions provided by HoloLens 2.

These features, and their implications, could possibly have a resounding impact on the structure of the manufacturing and production industries. With MxR, workers don’t need training – they only need to be able to follow real-time, visual instructions. They don’t need to have any knowledge prior to completing the task. They have, essentially, access to Matrix-like superpowers of downloading information directly to their brain – without the giant hole in the back of their skull.

And when things fall apart – as they inevitable do – the adaptable humans will still be there to improvise in ways automation physically couldn’t. This might be the crux of what sets MxR enhanced workers apart from automated robots – a worker with MxR enhancements is efficient and precise, but still has the ability to think, and act, outside of the box.

The AR and MxR industry was already worth $6 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow to $200 billion by 2025. That’s a huge leap – and with it, advancement and innovation. As A.I. takes over the digital realm, maybe we’ll regress back to a manufacturing based economy, albeit in a more futuristic way.

AR – It’s time to start thinking about it

There seem to be new technologies and trends emerging every day as the internet of things grows to envelop and shape the way we interact with each other, our jobs, and our hobbies. Today, one of these hot-topic-pieces-of-tech is augmented reality (AR).

With the release of Apple’s ARKit in June 2017, and Android’s ARCore in March 2018, mobile developers now have the tools to natively develop AR apps for smartphones, wearables, and even cars. If you’re a business that isn’t in the industry of user-facing software and products like Google or Snapchat, it might be easy to overlook the value of implementing AR into your daily procedures, or difficult to determine just how AR would work for you and your company.

Before we get into how your company can implement AR into its business model, let’s go over why AR (despite being a relatively new and untested technology) is probably the most exciting field of innovation for consumers and business alike.

In October of 2001, it was difficult to imagine that the iPod would completely revolutionize the technological landscape. We’d seen the evolution from records to cassettes and 8-tracks, to CDs and Walkmans – but all that had changed was the size and mobility of the music player – listeners still interacted with their devices using play, skip, stop, etc. It wasn’t until the iPod came to the market that a device changed the way listeners interacted with their music – suddenly, you didn’t need a backpack to carry your CDs, and track titles were visually displayed in searchable lists. The planning required by an individual to take music on the go was replaced with the ease of picking up a device with all of your favorite songs on it, and simply putting it in your pocket. This led to a drastic shift in the way people thought of their interactions with their music players – you listen to a Walkman, but you use an iPod.

We all know what came next – the largest shake-up the music industry had seen since the switch from analogue to digital recording – and like any significant change to a market, there were growing pains aplenty as artists and producers alike adapted to the changing climate.

It’s a trend that has continued rapidly ever since, as advancements in technology revolutionize every industry imaginable. In 2007, when the iPhone was first introduced, people stopped talking on their phones, and started using them. A year later, Android phones were on the market, and soon enough, smartphones evolved from a trend-setter status-symbol to ubiquitous multi-tools used to enhance almost every aspect of our daily lives. It took only six years to go from a device that holds 1000 songs to smartphones that put Captain Kirk’s communicator to shame.

Well, it’s 2001 all over again; except this time, it’s not music – it’s augmented reality.

Training and quality control

Imagine hiring a new HVAC technician. For that new hire to be successful, they must be trained, which means another technician is either pulled from their current job, or given the extra responsibility of teaching while also working. This is the way skilled trade knowledge has been passed down from expert to apprentice since the dawn of time, but it lacks the efficiency AR provides.

With an AR enhanced training program, that new technician can learn the ins and outs of HVAC systems on their own, without receiving instructions from an experienced employee – greatly increasing productivity and reducing the total cost of the hiring process. New employees are not only trained on their own – they are also trained more effectively, as AR ensures each training session disseminates the correct information and processes every time.

AR allows that new technician to see every layer and part of the HVAC system – from individual screws to the entire ventilation structure – and how each piece fits together. Your trainee can experience every possible type of mechanical failure for the system, and learn the appropriate remedy at their own pace.

Imagine being able to provide real, on-the-job experience without ever risking inefficiency or error at an actual job site; with AR, a technician can become an expert without ever going into the field.

When it comes to manufacturing, AR is the ultimate quality control assistant. Manufacturing jobs such as those on automobile production lines require high levels of accuracy, utilize a staggering number of parts, and rely on step by step processes that can easily be forgotten or implemented in the wrong order – especially during a long shift.

AR can, in real-time, highlight the next step in the assembly process, show where and how the parts are implemented, and check for accuracy after the step has been completed.

To see how this works, check out this amazing AR system by SCS Concept Group, VPG+.

Efficiency

Industries that utilize automated equipment, such as manufacturing or mining operations, can easily be enhanced with AR diagnostic systems. A fun project we did for Luckstone (one of the largest family-owned and operated producers of crushed stone, sand, and gravel in the U.S.) was an AR app that enhanced the productivity of quarry operations by providing the foreman with an interface that allowed on-site remote data analysis in real-time. The user points their mobile device at an operating machine, and a tag is displayed on the device’s screen – that tag can be expanded, providing real-time data on pounds of stone moved, operating efficiency, and any other data point relevant to the operations of the machine.

This saves foremen the wasted time of either walking across the quarry to the specific machine, or leaving the job site to analyze data in their office. This system was adapted to their business development team’s needs, and we developed an app that gave sales representatives the ability to access cloud data on past, current, and prospective clients based on geo location.

The sales representative points their phone towards a business, and in real time, information on past interactions with that customer is displayed on their device, giving them the ability to research potential clients, follow up on leads, and ensure they don’t mistakingly visit the same business twice, all in real time.

AR may be new, but it may just be the next big thing

It was only in 2017 when Apple released ARKit, after all; but AR is already making waves in the mobile industry. In 2018, Snapchat, which heavily invests in AR technology, posted a net worth of $3.2 billion. With leaps in advancement with wearable technology, and the integration of smart technologies in cars, it wouldn’t be surprising for AR to become commonplace in our daily lives in the coming years. It might even come to be expected by users – in 2006, if someone had told Jack Dorsey that Twitter would help decide the 2016 presidential election, he’d probably have laughed – but a social media startup became so integral to the way we communicate our ideas that it did just that.

We’re right at the cusp before the AR industry begins a rapid period of growth, so now is the time to start planning just how to implement AR into your own business’ needs.