Last week, Lex and myself visited the insideAR conference in Munich, Germany. This event is all about new AR developments and concepts in different kinds of industry, like automotive, marketing, b2b, industrial and edutainment. The market for AR is growing and more people and companies see the opportunities this technology brings along. Metaio is so confident about the prospects of AR that they stated ‘AR will be on every smartphone in 2014’.
There were many tracking and mapping methods demonstrated, for example the pointcloud method (SLAM). This method doesn’t need a marker or gps to track an object but instead builds up a 3D model of the space around it, and then places a virtual 3D object on the scanned surfaces.
Also very cool (and very expensive!) is the tracking method that Metaio used to track a car exterior with infrared cameras placed above and around the car. The cameras track the car very precise which makes the augmentation very realistic and fit exactly on the car. Cars are some of the most difficult objects to track because of the shapes and reflections.
Another method that was shown is the marker tracking method. This is the most common and best known method for AR tracking. There were demos for print media like magazine ads and child books, switching and configuring rims on a car, and racing with a radio controlled car on a circuit with markers. This method works very well for tracking, but the user experience is the worst compared with other methods. This is caused by the fact that the markers are often ugly (except when real images or photographs are used), and tracking a marker just isn’t as magical as tracking a regular object.
Besides the demos, there were some interesting presentations and case studies by Metaio, Ericsson, Volkswagen, the British Museum, Stern and NVIDIA.
We liked the presentation given by Shelley Mannion, Digital Learning Programmes Manager at the British Museum. She emphasized the importance of the user experience with AR, which so far has been very poor in the majority of AR applications. We fully agree with her on this, and believe the reason for this is that there aren’t many user experience designers active in this field. Most apps are designed and developed by software engineers.
When the user experience improves, more people will embrace AR and the apps will become more useful and look nicer.
Shelley Mannion presented some case studies of AR concepts for kids in the British Museum. The result was that when the interaction is simple and fun, kids understood what they could do and liked the experience very much. The British Museum has often tested their concepts amongst users, which is very good.
Another very interesting presentation was given by Josh Shabtai, CEO & Creative Director of Vertigore Games. According to him augmented reality is the future of games and vice versa; games are the future of augmented reality. So, to let this technology succeed we should add some gameplay and fun to the things we design and develop. After all, gaming is also augmenting our reality in positive ways.
Josh Shabtai also mentioned the book ‘Reality is broken’ by Jane McGonigal. Her book is about how we can improve our lives through thoughtful application game techniques. She designed a game named ‘SuperBetter’, to help her recover from a traumatic concussion. The books tells about how games can transform suffering into transcendent experiences. I’m currently reading this book and suggest it to everybody interested in this topic.
This conference was a good opportunity to get up to date with the latest developments and people in the field of AR. We spoke to a number of people and I believe there’s a shared sense that AR is still in it’s infancy, but we are about to reach a counterpoint in the coming years. When more designers and other people from the creative field get interested, new concepts and new user interfaces will be developed which will result in more useful applications with a better user experience. As Metaio said: ‘AR will transform from gimmick to a standard user interface’.