2018: The Year of Augmented Reality

vr headset in grass

Virtual reality (VR) is more popular than ever before. From video games to interactive broadcasting, mainstream consumers are enamored with the new technology — but it’s not the only form of supplemental reality that’s making headlines.

Instead of replacing their entire surroundings with a virtualized world, many are using augmented reality (AR) to add various fun, creative and useful digital elements to the real world.

The Dawn of AR

Consumers are already using AR to play next-gen video games and to make their daily lives easier. Many of us were first introduced to the concept of AR via the hit game, “Pokemon Go.” Love it or hate it, the game is a shining example of how the technology can bring us face-to-face with the biggest characters in popular media — whether they exist in real life or not.

The IT team with the Home Depot recently introduced AR functionality to their mobile app, which gives customers a virtual, in-home preview of new furniture, accessories and designs. Not only does this save you the time of finding the exact item you need within the store, but it ensures that any new purchases coordinate with your current furnishings and belongings.

As useful as these and other apps are, they only mark the beginning of the AR revolution. While it will take a concentrated effort from manufacturers and consumers alike, the stage for 2018 is set.

A New Focus

While most companies were once focused solely on VR and its potential for the future, many companies are now switching their attention to AR. Even Michael Abrash, head of research for one of the most popular VR headsets to date, the Oculus, cannot ignore the possibilities of AR. According to him, the general public isn’t yet comfortable socializing in a fully virtualized setting.

Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, echoed those sentiments. The Apple platform wasn’t even capable of running any VR experience until mid-2017, and many, including those inside the company, feel that it’s too late to begin their efforts in VR. Instead, they’re doubling down on their investments in the niche of AR for 2018.

A significant portion of the problem revolves around the wearable headsets. Today’s VR devices are large, clunky and awkward — and they make it impossible to view anything that doesn’t exist in the virtual world. Conversely, current AR devices are sleek, lightweight eyeglasses that let you see your real-world surroundings as well as those within the VR landscape.

This is prompting many to increase their investments in AR. Recent reports from the IDC suggest the AR and VR markets could soar from $5.2 billion in 2016 to well over $160 billion by 2020. Not only does this highlight the average consumer’s willingness to embrace such technology, but it proves that today’s companies and investment firms are ready to take a chance on emerging IT.

AR technology isn’t limited to next-gen eyeglasses. Many cars already feature heads-up displays on the interior of the windshield that broadcast speed, GPS information and more. Employees with GE Aviation’s Cincinnati plant use digital torque wrenches that use AR to achieve the perfect fit and tightness of connectors. As the technology improves, we’re likely to see AR-infused systems in places we’d never expect.

Making an Impact in 2018 and Beyond

While many large-scale AR devices are still too expensive for most consumers, and others aren’t even available at the time of this writing, the AR technology we’ve already seen is groundbreaking. With increased investments coming from all over the world and more consumer interest than ever before, AR is set to make a significant impact in 2018 and beyond.

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Nathan P. Sykes

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