The 4th visual dimension.

Augmented Reality on the way to its breakthrough as a mass-market technology.

The spear: a smartphone. The prey: a little virtual monster. Anyone who hasn’t been hiding in a cave for the past few weeks can’t fail to have noticed how Pokémon Go mania has the world in its fangs. The hype surrounding this ‘hunter-and-gatherer’ game has conquered even the most serious media and may well have led to the infection of your kids, close friends or colleagues with hunting fever. What differentiates Homo digitalis from Homo erectus? What can we learn from this celebration of Stone Age rituals in post-modern guise?

The Neolithic period of the digital age.

1982 saw the premiere of AR technology in the United States – in the form of animated weather maps on TV. Something we take for granted, today. The term Augmented Reality was first used by engineers at Boeing in 1990. Tom Caudell and David Mizell developed a method for considerably accelerating the aircraft assembly process. Instead of using gigantic wiring diagrams on paper, the connections between the countless cables were displayed digitally on head-mounted displays (HMDs). In this way, it became possible to provide the workforce with digital construction plans in real time (Guided Working). Today, this remains the most important area in which AR is used, alongside its use in the entertainment industry.

Hype comes. Hype goes. Only this time, the hype is the breakthrough of a new technology: Thanks to Pokémon Go, Augmented Reality (AR) has arrived and made itself felt in every corner of the real world. It will eventually become as commonplace and familiar to us as using a smartphone. Nevertheless, the technology has been around for quite a while.

Hyper-sterile functional worlds.

AR has already found numerous uses in the industrial segment. The range of professions in which such ‘digital construction plans’ are now utilised includes surgeons, mechanics, engineers and warehousing staff. In the marketing segment, AR-apps are employed to guide users happily through their lives – virtual penguins show them around zoos, AR-animated flyers recommend a visit to the theatre or explain individual features and functions in cars. In the same way as cars need motor racing to experience their entire universe of emotions, technologies need quality and must simultaneously generate a passion that can be experienced. It doesn’t always have to be a conventional passion that provides the leverage for the breakthrough of a technology.

Take the good old VHS video cassette. Without its two unique properties, it would never have been able to begin its conquest of living rooms around the globe: 1) in contrast to Video Disc, its competitor in the consumer video stakes, a VHS cassette could be copied, offered home recording capability and could be erased and re-recorded any number of times, 2) it gave its users access to a previously shadowy area of the world of entertainment with limited availability: pornography.

Global AR-worlds.

What would it be like if AR assisted us in every aspect of our daily lives? If everything in our living rooms could be controlled and organised by gestures and displays on SmartGlass: light switches, the colour of our wallpaper, the number and choices of video channels, chats with friends, ordering a pizza, shoes or a babysitter – and all of it networked with the coordination of appointments for the next day. What would it be like if every imaginable surface in our homes were AR-controlled? What if every time we left our own four walls, we would enter a world in which information and advertising would bombard our senses from any and every quarter. In his short film, ‘Hyper Reality’, video artist Keiichi Matsuda gives us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in this brave new world.

Even though it may appear too bright and brash at first sight, audiences have the opportunity to experience the total connectivity of an AR-system that suffuses the entire urban infrastructure. In the future, AR-technology will no longer lead a niche existence as an ephemeral pleasure closely tied to a specific location. Their will be no island, however small, where one or two iBeacons can’t be tried out. Instead, we will be in constant dialogue with the environment. We will move through a seemingly infinite network of Smart Places. This requires a redefinition of the meaning of public space – after all, who does virtual public space belong to? Who decides which content is shown and where?

Will AR replace windows AR?

AR applications are particularly fascinating when they are interactive and are constantly updated in real time. In 2014, Jaguar presented their concept of a virtual windscreen. In addition to real time navigation data, the virtual windscreen also provides the driver with locally relevant information. Viewing the world through the virtual windscreen makes it easy to identify the locations of hotels, filling stations or car parks and also provides detailed additional information. What’s more, the AR-technology installed in this vehicle also eliminates the A and B pillars. The result – a car with a 360°, all-round view. Imagine a car with nothing that interrupts your view – wouldn’t that bring enormously increased safety?

Thanks to our Startup Autobahn programme, mid-July saw us giving the SmartGlass startup Gauzy the chance to take the next steps in this direction of thought.

Nevertheless, the future of cars as we know them may eventually look quite different. What if AR-technology completely did away with the need for windows. This is a dream at Toyota and Lamborghini and, as an aircraft body without windows is a much more stable structure, several aircraft manufacturers are already seriously considering the construction of windowless planes. Such visions bring us to a point where virtual and augmented reality become increasingly indistinguishable. A truly breathtaking breakthrough!