What's Happening in Augmented Reality These Days?

Ariba Jahan

Augmented Reality (AR) is no longer a buzzword of the future. At this point, we all have used AR. Ever taken a selfie with a Snapchat rainbow tongue or Instagram flower crown? Those filters are AR. Augmented reality uses your existing environment and simply overlays virtual information on top of it.

Already, there are 13 million AR app downloads and over 2,000 AR apps in the App store. Deloitte Global predicts that “over a billion smartphone users will create AR content at least once in 2019.” The good news is that the cost of experimenting in AR has fallen significantly as the technical expertise required to create AR apps has been reduced.  

Mozilla launched an AR/VR web browser to provide a frictionless AR web experience and a well-supported AR development environment. Snapchat’s Lens Studio lets users create their own filters. Tech companies have all launched their own AR development tools, including Apple’s ARkit, Facebook’s Spark AR Studio and Google’s ARCore.

Here’s three different ways AR is being used on mobile devices that may spark some ideas on how you can use it for good.

Storytelling, redefined

Will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas and Marvel created a graphic novel that brings together hip hop, heroes and zombies to tell “a heightened story on the rise and the fall of what hip-hop was meant to be”. As a reader, you can get a deeper experience of the “Masters of the Sun” story by using an accompanying AR app to scan the pages and watch the characters and scenes come to life.

Similarly, authors are embedding AR interactions into their books using the Metaverse app to give their readers more ways to interact with their characters. BIC created a storytelling app that allows children to bring their drawings to life with the magic of AR.

Most recently, there were three augmented reality films in the New Frontier lineup at the 2019 Sundance Festival.  A Jester’s Tale creates a psychologically taxing take on the children’s fable, and the Dial, an interactive murder mystery, merges live performance with technology of old.

Entertainment, enhanced

The success of the Master of the Sun graphic novel has spawned into an Oculus-backed VR film and inspired the Black Eyed Peas to incorporate AR powered graphic overlays into their stage performance.

GOAT the largest digital sneaker marketplace reimagined their Black Friday sneaker contest in AR. To increase their chances to win, users visited physical points of interest identified in the app (like Fight Club NY and “Sneaker Street” in Hong Kong) to activate 3D AR interactive objects and share them to social media. Almost 2 million people participated in the contest globally! Read more on how they built the experience.

AR’s biggest success is definitely in gaming. Soon, you will be able to hunt for hidden artifacts, find characters and cast magical spells in a mobile-based AR Harry Potter game (made by Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go!). Games like Smash Tanks and Tetris let you play and interact with the game pieces while placing them in your own reality. Physical card games are also getting an upgrade – just point your phone camera at these Warhammer physical cards and the characters will pop out and join a paired digital game. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) connected AR gaming and social good by creating a game where you can save rhinos.

Life, made simpler

American airlines made an AR app that adds real time information on top of your surroundings at airport terminals, so you can find the nearest Starbucks or bathroom. Additionally,  the next time you see an amazing jacket on someone, instead of just wondering where to get it, you can use Snapchatto find out. When you scan a product or barcode using the Snapchat camera, an Amazon product page will automatically load so you can easily purchase! Similar AR technology allowed Allstate to help families plan their emergency evacuation plan based on their home’s actual layout.

Snapchat started AR commerce with BMW last year with an ad to launch the BMW X2. When you swiped on the ad, your phone camera opened and the car would appear in the frame. You could then walk around the car (visible through your phone), interact with it, and change its color or its size.

AR allows you to add virtual items into your reality so you can gauge what furniture works best for your apartment or how that dream tattoo design or makeup will really look. AR can also help you to decipher food menus abroad.Facebook launched AR ads last summer to help you see how Pottery Barn furniture would look in your home or how a pair of sunglasses would look on your face – all while staying in the Facebook app.

As you can see brands and tinkerers are dabbling into AR in all sorts of ways. I’m excited to see how we can leverage these technologies to further social good.