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The Augmented Reality Problem

In lieu of our recent talk with Whurley from Chaotic Moon, I think instead of look at just one augmented reality app, I am more interested in examining the market and platform in general. The platform is inherently an interesting idea and could potentially revolutionize several fields. One field that was discussed was medicine and how augmented reality systems can be used as training devices. The platform can be very effective since it adds more layers of data on top of what is already in the world. The layered information is what is key. The extra layers give better depth and understanding to what already exists; they alter the level of accessibility of information and how it is displayed. Changing how things are displayed is a game changer (no pun intended) since suddenly now pertinent information can be displayed in real time in real space and on top of this the information can be rapidly changed with the environment that it is being displayed over. The problem with it, though, is that most interfaces for augmented reality are terrible. They require a camera to view the environment, a transparent display to view the information, and some way to manipulate the data and/or control the interface. Because of these major components (and, of course, things like microprocessors and miniaturized electronics), augmented reality devices are rare and exceedingly clunky. Even though there are obvious benefits to augmented reality, our current technological state (and apparently obsession with trying to break the laws of physics and optics) greatly limits what we would like to do with the technology.

The other hinderance to augmented reality is the market. Sure, one could easily argue the is a market for augmented reality servies; the growing number of smart phone users alone would provide an ample consumer base for the technology. People can usually get over having a crappy interface if they like what the software does. The problem with the market, though, is the fact that many companies behind the hardware and software are too busy trying to sue each other over software and hardware patents (more so software patents). The constant legal battles create a miserable market for someone trying to break into the market, let alone for someone who is already in the market trying to innovate. The level of innovation in the field of augmented reality is horrendously low; Whurley talked about asking leading researchers in the field of augmented reality  about the problems it faces and over the past decade, the answers to those same fundamental questions have been left unfulfilled and unchanged. The market is stifled and needs some kind of injection to get off the third floor (it seems less appropriate to say getting off the ground in this case since there is plenty of AR floating about now). With companies more worried about infringing on other patents, there is less incentive to make something new because everyone is patent-trolling everyone else and original ideas are quashed by filing a piece of paper first rather than making something functional and innovative to the field. Why on Earth is swiping something across the screen to unlock a device patentable? Wait, that is another story.

TL;DR Augmented reality has been slow to come to fruition due to technological constraints and a bunch of assholes in suits fighting over who gets which pennies.



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