Augmented reality demystified

Augmented Reality (AR) has been in the news a lot lately. Let’s take a look at what it is and how it might impact your business.



Let’s start with what AR is, and how it differs from its sister buzz-phase, Virtual Reality (VR).

Wikipedia defines Augmented Reality as:

a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or



So AR is nothing more than computer-generated information added on top of a real-world view. VR, on the other hand, is a view that’s entirely computer generated. Practically, this means VR goggles are closed while AR goggles need to be clear so that you can see around you.

Current Uses:

For many of us, Augmented Reality became “real” with the launch of Pokemon GO last year. Within a few days it seemed like every kid (and many adults) was adding to their collection of monsters, using their phone/camera as an AR viewer, while driving over $1 billion in revenue in only 6 months.

But there are many current uses for AR beyond Pokemon GO, and some have been around for quite some time. One example is the airplane heads-up display (HUD), which gives pilots the ability to see waterlines, flight path vectors and navigational data without the need to look down or to the side. Primitive versions of HUD have been around since WWII.


Snapchat, Facebook and others are putting a lot of energy behind their goggle projects. My favorite display is the Microsoft HoloLens. Only a development edition is available to the public but there are

great demos online

for anyone who wants to get a look at what AR is and can become.

What is Coming:

In many ways, thinking about AR now is like looking at the internet in 1995. The potential is clear, but predicting how the future will develop is a little harder to figure out. Nevertheless, with a little thought and research there are a number of use cases that seem likely to become popular in the next few years. Here are some of my favorites:

  • GPS Turn-by-Turn Navigation

    —Heads-up displays are already showing up in cars, and it is not hard to imagine being able to see turn-by-turn navigation lined up with the actual roads and landmarks in front of you. The biggest challenge will be balancing information with clutter and distraction. (Imagine an AR ad for a restaurant popping up as you near an exit.)

  • Medical Visualization

    —AR is seen as a game-changing technology in the medical field. There are already tools on the market that help doctors “see” veins to improve the percentage of “1-stick” interactions and reduce pain. In the future, doctors should be able to see a wide range of information while they are operating on patients, which will allow them to make fewer mistakes, work more quickly and more.

  • Coming Soon—a Screenless World

    —Facebook is clearly planning for a future with where people get their information not from a phone or computer but, instead, straight through their eyes. This world appears to be at least five years away, but imagine being able to “type” by thinking about it. Sixty Facebook scientists and engineers are apparently working on

    this reality

    as we speak.

What Could AR Mean to You?

Obviously AR is going to impact different industries in different ways. The most important thing to do now is to get familiar with tools and concepts around AR and think about use cases that might affect your business. How many of us would like to go back to 1995 with what we know about the Internet? Putting some thought into how AR will change the world could give you a chance to get a jump on your next big move. And becoming the AR expert at your company could be as easy as showing a little interest and foresight before anyone else. Good luck!