AR Cloud will revolutionize the way we interact with the world AR Cloud will revolutionize the way we interact with the world

By Mikko McMenamin

28.01.2019

What is the main application of augmented reality, or AR? If you ask the 800 million gamers out there, the answer probably is Pokemon Go. However, AR has the potential to completely transform the world - to add a new digital layer on top of the old, analogue world.

In this post, I will explore a potentially revolutionary direction that AR technology is currently moving towards - and why it is relevant to companies operating in various industries already today.

Limitations of AR today

Today, augmented reality mostly means creating some kind of interactive, enhanced visual experience for a single user, typically when looked through a smartphone screen or a headset. Unfortunately, most implementations are still technology demos or gimmicks.

A fundamental flaw is that today’s AR is not persistent and it is limited to personal experiences only.

The lack of persistency means that when you interact with AR objects, say move a piece of digital furniture around, the environment is completely reset when you log in the next time. The digital furniture won’t be where you left it.

Limitation to personal experiences means that you cannot have a colleague share the same workspace with you. Again, if you move the digital furniture around, others won’t be able to see it.

These limitations essentially cripple AR for most productive applications.

AR Cloud adds a persistent and shared digital layer

Companies such as 6D.Ai and Google are already bringing out technologies that can be used to map a persistent, digital 3D model of the world - the AR Cloud. In this digital layer, virtual objects retain their places and are available for everyone with access to the cloud.

What’s more, AR Cloud understands the physical world as well. Walls, windows, tables - a digital copy of the world linked to the real-life environment, where you could drop a virtual ball on top of a physical table and see it bounce off of it. Current AR applications are still lacking in occlusion - meaning hiding virtual objects behind real objects. Without reconstructing the mesh of the real world, it is nearly impossible to occlude virtual objects in a realistic way.

So how do you build a digital copy of the world? By scanning the world with smartphone cameras, AR glasses, and drones, for example. Much like how Google created it’s Street View, only this time the work is crowdsourced to millions and millions of regular people.

Many clouds, not just for humans

So, will the digital grid cover the entire world and be open for everyone? At first, there will probably be many implementations of AR Clouds, some public, some private. The smartest clouds can be connected or merged together. The platforms that facilitate the clouds will have a lot of control over how information is accessed.

Regular people will come to expect that train stations, airports and shopping malls all provide this invisible digital layer of information that can be seen through the smartphone or special glasses. What an individual user sees, can be deeply filtered and personalised. Social AR applications and shared multiplayer experiences will become immensely popular.

Enterprises will start by digitally mapping their own environments: factories, facilities, ships, shared workspaces, offices and so on. Having business-critical information in the cloud naturally means heavy focus on security, access control, and privacy.

Note that the digital cloud is not just for humans. When the physical world is digitally mapped, autonomous robots can accurately move around: think about delivery robots, self-driving vehicles and automated factories, for example. With the help of machine learning methods, the AR Cloud can detect and classify real world objects and therefore be conscious of the surrounding environment. This enables highly intelligent and interactive applications.

All the world’s information is currently hidden in servers and software apps are needed to access it. What if information could be present in the space where you need it - in the physical world?

What should I do today?

The world won’t be digitally mapped overnight. It needs some technological steps (sensor technology, machine vision and learning, mobile data upload and download speeds) and motivating use cases to drive the development.

However, we anticipate that within the next two to three years, there will be significant steps forward.

So, what should you do today?

Understand the potential. Consider how AR could evolve, transform or disrupt your industry. Follow the progress and anticipate the point of time where you should jump in.

And don’t worry. Companies like Intopalo Digital will be there to spearhead the change by making sure that the digital future stays safe and secure.