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The magic of augmented reality

In two days, 30 March, 2016 to be precise, Microsoft is scheduled to release its headgear for augmented reality. Dubbed HoloLens, the gear is a…

In two days, 30 March, 2016 to be precise, Microsoft is scheduled to release its headgear for augmented reality. Dubbed HoloLens, the gear is a full, standalone Windows 10 device. HoloLens combines the real world you are located in, with a virtual one – hologram, using a combo of high-definition displays, see-through lenses, and eye calibration, to create a pretty powerful out-of-this-world effect. Note that the headgear is actually a computer.
With a built-in 3D depth-sensing camera and precise motion sensors, artificial images can be made to fully interact with your physical world. For example, right in front of your eyes, you can see mango trees grow and blossom right on top of your dining table; or objects can begin to bounce off your real furniture. You can pierce holes right through the real walls of the room you are located in. Moreover, while seated in your office at work, the president of this country can suddenly appear in your office as if to query you for not doing the work you are being paid to do as a civil servant. All these with audios to boot! That is, the president can actually start talking with you – for example, asking you when you reported to work today; and you can carry out a conversation with him. Moreover, you can create a “life” video of the unique interaction that you have with the president inside your office and send the video to your friends and family. That is, as an archive of the day the president visited your office. What is also amazing is that, with some tools, other people who happen to be in your office when the president appeared will also be able to see and talk with him, in full size, as he chats with all of you. How cool is that?
Now, don’t try to touch your (VIP) visitor or shake hands with him, for you can only see and hear him. You can’t touch him or smell him because he is obviously virtual!
There are two related technologies here: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In VR, a totally artificial (virtual, digital) environment is created for you to watch or play with, whereas, in AR, your real (physical) environment is combined (integrated) with some virtual digital information in real time. In AR, the virtual information is overlaid on top of your real environment. In the above illustrations, your dining table, furniture, walls in your room, and office, are real – you can touch them, whereas, the mango tree, the objects bouncing on your furniture, the holes through the wall, or the appearance of the president in your office, are all virtual. Obviously, AR is more advanced than VR.
According to an Internet post by Margaret Rouse in techtarget, “Augmented reality apps are written in special 3D programs that allow the developer to tie animation or contextual digital information in the computer program to an augmented reality “marker” in the real world. When a computing device’s AR app or browser plug-in receives digital information from a known marker, it begins to execute the marker’s code and layer the correct image or images. AR applications for smartphones typically include global positioning system (GPS) to pinpoint the user’s location and its compass to detect device orientation. Sophisticated AR programs used by the military for training may include machine vision, object recognition and gesture recognition technologies.”
Although the original motive of VR and AR might have been for video games, it is now believed that VR and AR might actually be better suited for the enterprise than the consumer market. Mechanical engineers could apply VR and AR to build rapid virtual prototypes of new designs, test materials, and provide training for new employees. These technologies can also find huge applications in collaboration: Geographically dispersed teams can exchange information and ideas in a 3D virtual environment; perhaps much more effectively than using video conferencing, which is 2D.
IKEA, the home goods company, is reportedly deploying AR for its customers. Nicole Laskowski, also in a techtarget Internet post, states that “Using an IKEA catalogue and catalogue app, customers can add virtual furnishings to their bedrooms or kitchens, snap a photo and get a sense for what the items will look like in their homes. And companies such as Audi and Marriott are turning VR headsets over to customers to help them visually sift through their choices for vehicle customizations and virtually travel to other countries, respectively.”
Besides Microsoft and Google; Samsung, Facebook, Apple, and the Chinese company, Baidu, are also into VR.
Needless to say that these new technologies will have some IT consequences for optimum deployment: the large contents that need to be created, stored, and maintained, and the larger bandwidth requirement compared to, say, video streaming, because the immersive experience in VR/AR is far more dynamic.

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