Probing the Future of Augmented Reality

For the past three years, I have been living a double life. No, I’m not a spy or hiding a second family. I gave in to my midlife crisis and went to graduate school in Germany. I didn’t give up my day job writing about engineering software and doing consulting. By the time you read this, I will have defended my thesis — like a mother bear defends a cub — and graduated.

I’m not sharing this so my social media will fill with congratulatory notes. I’m telling you this as a setup to the topic of this blog post, the future of augmented reality. My new degree is in Media and Communications Studies, a discipline that uses scientific research methods to explore the wide range of human communications, from journalism to selfies.

(Side note: If it seems like I’m going off topic for a Synergis Software blog post, allow me to explain. Synergis has asked me to occasionally use this form to talk about trends and the larger issues in engineering. Let us know what you think.)

For my culminating research project, I took a look at the future of augmented reality (AR). Specifically, I explored what experienced technology marketing professionals think about the near-term future of augmented reality. This means my study was not technical in nature, but my results provide insight into what members of a professional, technical community think about this intriguing new technology. My preliminary findings revealed a complete lack of empirical research on using AR for business and professional marketing, so my project was able to provide information other researchers could use. This is called an ex ante exploratory study.

I created a series of questions rooted in a media theory called Technology Acceptance Model, a widely applied model of users’ acceptance and usage of technology. I assembled a virtual panel of experienced engineering software industry marketers and a couple of seasoned industry technologists who also had marketing experience. (If I provided names at this point, you would likely recognize a couple of them.) Each panelist answered the questions, then I compiled the answers and shared with the group. Each panelist then had the opportunity to extend their remarks based on the insights of their peers.

I analyzed the responses, organizing the ideas into categories. (For you research snobs out there, I used Open Coding and Axial Coding techniques.) I found 32 specific topics which I organized into five broad categories: Marketing Methods, Content Issues, Technology Issues, Business Issues, and Generalized Observations.

In no particular order, here are some of the findings I think are of interest to readers of this blog:

Lack of content creators: Whether the content is a power plant walk-through or a floating billboard, augmented reality will require specific content and specific content creators. Today, most engineering teams have somebody who creates the beautiful 3D images from all the CAD data; AR needs that same special attention. As one panelist noted, “people who are Unity or Unreal Engine [AR content creation tools] rock stars are rare as hens’ teeth and crap content is more harmful than no content.” Another said, “Getting talent, getting access to apps will be the most difficult part.”

Platform confusion: Today, augmented reality is served up for smartphones, tablets, head-mounted displays, desktop, CAVE viewing stations, and interactive signage. There are technical issues regarding how to create and deliver appropriate content to so many platforms.

Ubiquity: Panelists were divided on whether or not there would be widespread adoption of AR technology in the next five years. Some thought the gamification of AR in such apps as Pokémon Go will help accelerate mass adoption; others thought AR won’t be familiar enough in five years to create content specific to the genre. Bandwidth was noted as an important consideration: “The cost of the devices will be immaterial. Latency, resolution, and bandwidth constraints will retard adoption.” Others were more positive about the future: “Once processing power improves and AR can expand to everyday glasses, I think you will see a huge leap in its use.”

Personalization: Several panelists commented on the need for AR content to be personalized. “By 2023, the expectations of consumers and of target customers will be much higher than they are today — they’ll expect personalized, highly-relevant, targeted information and have the ability to discard what they consider irrelevant.”

If you want to read my thesis, drop me an email and I’ll send a PDF: randall@consiliavektor.com


Randall S. Newton  is Managing Director of Consilia Vektor, a research and content development consultancy specializing in engineering and distributed ledger technology (DLT) industries. He has been a guest contributor to the Synergis Software blog since 2014. 

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