Everyone is talking about augmented reality (AR) so we decided to talk about it for a whole week. Welcome to AR Week, our look at the past, present and future of AR. Apple's Tim Cook describes it as a "core technology"; Mark Zuckerberg is laying the groundwork for AR to be bigger than VR for Facebook. And the whole world is throwing money at a Florida startup that's taking its sweet time releasing its first device. (Yes, Magic Leap, we're talking about you).
This week we'll be diving into the tech, trends and people defining and building what AR can be. From the military origins of the tech to the startups and crowdfund campaigns you've never heard of. From Microsoft HoloLens to Snap World Lenses to Apple ARKit (and WTAF we mean by "mixed reality") we've got it covered. And we'll be posting links to all the interviews, op-eds and in-depth features right here in this story - just scroll down.
Main image credit: Keiichi Matsuda, Hyper-Reality
"We all know where we want this to get eventually. We want glasses or eventually contact lenses that look and feel normal, but let us overlay all kinds of information and digital objects on top of the real world."
- Mark Zuckerberg, F8 2017
We are, of course, interested in how wearable tech, specifically smartglasses, visors, helmets and headsets, will shape what we mean by AR and how we interact with it. But we also recognise that right now, aside from HoloLens and expensive devices mainly targeted at industry and enterprise, the most exciting AR lives on the smartphone. We also know that AR glasses aren't the end game when it comes to form factors - maybe that's contact lenses, maybe it's implants, maybe it's next-gen projectors.
Even so, we're on the verge of something big. By the end of 2018 we could have augmented reality specs, or at least something you wear on your face, from Apple, Magic Leap and Snap to join Microsoft. Google is long overdue for an AR comeback. More cautiously Facebook expects AR to have its "Macintosh moment" in five years time.
We're already seeing some promising signs that the AR we've been longing for is coming to life. Apple's smartglasses might be some way away but ARKit is already giving us a glimpse into the thrilling possibilities. Rather than push out a product first, like it did with the Watch, Apple is building an entire platform for AR; come September it will be hitting the on-switch and turning the hundreds of millions of iPhones in our pockets into augmented reality playthings. And that's pretty dam special.
Similarly, Facebook has the advantage of having a platform already in place, and has started toying with camera filters. But it also owns Oculus VR, and that's going to help it take AR from the computer on our desks and in our pockets to the one on our faces. And then we have Magic Leap... where nobody really knows what's going on. The secretive AR company has been playing its cards close to its chest for quite a while now, which has pushed expectations to fever pitch.
What we don't know yet is whether AR will spend years, or even a decade, doing useful, futuristic things in health, space, sports and education before migrating to the mainstream for entertainment and everyday use. Or if it will ever get there. Already it has been suggested that AR could be more social, accessible and better for our biology than complete virtual reality.
As with VR, there are a ton of challenges ahead - new technical, ethical and legal issues - and we'll be exploring those too whether it's innovations in light fields or how we deal with advertising. Precisely what we overlay onto the real world is also still very much up for grabs. Talented AR creators and developers need to replicate the VR studios that we've seen emerging out of tech, movie and gaming over the last few years, or something close to it.
Our vision accounts for two thirds of electrical activity in the brain. Placing digital and virtual objects, characters and scenes into what we see when we look at the world could change how we think about what is 'tech' and what is 'real' just as much as AI or bionic implants.
To any haters who don't think AR will have an impact, let us (mis)quote Black Mirror and countless others: wait, you're not seeing this?
We're kicking things off with a look back at how AR visions from writers, directors and the earliest experimenters have shaped what we are now getting so hyped up about. Then we're jumping back to the present to the best AR demos of 2017 i.e. where we're at right now, including Super Mario Bros on HoloLens and fidget spinners on Apple ARKit.
We also round up the smartglasses you can actually buy this year, whether AR or non-AR, and take a look at the differences between augmented reality and mixed reality. Important to know. Finally, be sure to catch up on the latest in Apple's AR plans.
OK let's get real. We need to talk about ownership, ads and safety when it comes to AR and the time to get this right is now. Check out our long read on ethics and AR now.
After that, join us as we dig into the design world's experiments with virtual and mixed reality, and then be sure to choose your side in our slanging match about Magic Leap. We've also been speaking to the top names in the field to find out what's holding up the AR revolution, and exploring what UC Davis researchers are working on in the space.
All the artificial realities have the potential to disrupt a whole bunch of industries from healthcare to space exploration. First up today is our look at how the military is using AR in 2017, 25 years after one of the first AR systems was built for the US Air Force.
Then we check back in with Apple's (reported) AR dream team of ex-NASA, Magic Leap and Lucasfilm hire, find out how Alpha Labs plans to build casual AR glasses and try out FITAR's future fitness apps.
Last but not least, Microsoft's Greg Sullivan explains how HoloLens and Mixed Reality will merge in future.
Day 4 sees us asking for predictions on the future of AR from creators, companies and experts - plus we couldn't resist throwing in a few of our own. For this week's #Trending, we explore AR and sports and where it's heading, plus a plea to consider AR and privacy now - before it's too late. We also take a tour of some of the AR startups you need to know about, before strapping on Avegant's headset to see what the fuss about 'light field' is all about. The verdict? You'll have to go find out.
Holy shitsnacks we're coming to the end. Take 20 minutes out and have a read of The Girl Who Lost Her Glasses, a piece of short fiction imagining life with smartglasses in 2027. We've got a special edition of Field of view: The Week in VR (AND AR)anda look round Meta's labs.
What do you think we should be talking about when it comes to augmented and mixed reality for AR Week? Let us know in the comments below.