Foreseeing the Future in an Augmented World

There has been a lot of hype about AR (Augmented Reality) but experts agree that AR technology has not lived up to its full potential. There are lots of neat examples of AR used in marketing campaigns, but most of these examples are gimmicky and demonstrate ‘form over function’. An example includes Stella Artois’ Le Bar Guide, which leads users to local bars using directional arrows overlaid in real time. I’ll be the first one to admit that this is really cool, but not overly practical, as it has very narrow real-use applications.

AR technology is quite broad in scope as it encompasses anything from mobile phone apps that overlay text on top of a live scene, to GPS mapping, to display wear (like Google Glass). Although AR technology may mean different things to different people, experts agree that there are three characteristics that define AR:

  1. It combines real and virtual worlds
  2. It is interactive in real time
  3. It is registered in 3D

There are many practical uses for AR technology, so let’s take a look at what the future may look like for a working professional in the graphic communications industry.

Meet Greg. Greg is a sales professional who works for a packaging company. He interacts with the world through his smart phone, tablet, as well as wearable glasses technology. As Greg travels to the office, his wearable device notifies him of traffic on his normal route up ahead. Drawing from the data of other users around him, the technology reroutes Greg and displays the new route with turn-by-turn directions over top of the view of the road in front of him. (The “Wikitude Navigation” app is already capable of helping users do just this:

He arrives to work with a few minutes to spare so he decides to make a few extra copies of his sales presentation that is happening later today. Oh no! The photocopier’s black toner cartridge is running low and it’s a new copier so Greg has no idea how to change it. Instead of asking the company’s very busy receptionist, he is able to pull up the manual for the new copier on his device using location-based technology that senses when he is near certain pieces of equipment. A flashing yellow arrow appears over top of the real-time view of the photocopier demonstrating exactly how to insert the toner correctly. Once Greg secures it in place, a large checkmark appears and he is able to continue making copies. (Using AR for training already exists for diverse applications such as learning surgical procedures and repairing industrial machinery:

Just after lunch, Greg heads out the door and directly to the airport where he is traveling on a two-day business trip to Brazil. He arrives in the new country where he tries to navigate his way around the airport with limited English signage. Luckily his smart device has language translation enabled, and so Greg is able to easily translate all of the signage from Portuguese to English, simply by aiming his device at the signage. Later on, Greg uses the same app when trying to read a restaurant menu and also when trying to understand pharmaceutical packaging in a drug store. (The “Google Translate” app allows users to translate foreign text in 26 languages instantly using the camera on their smartphones:

Greg makes it to his business meeting from the airport and sits down with his client in front of a 3D virtual mock-up of their package that he is able to virtually “place” on store shelves beside a competitor’s product in real time. The mockup allows Greg to twist, turn, and move the product packaging to see it from all angles. (An app called “Augment” harnesses the power of AR for packaging prototyping:

Greg has a rush of energy after his successful client meeting so he decides to head out for a delicious dinner. He’s never been to Brazil before, so he opens up his “city concierge” app that allows him to narrow down his search query to a “steakhouse” rated with “4+ stars” in a “0.5 kilometer radius”. Four results are returned that are layered over top of the city’s landscape. (“Lonely Planet Compass City Guides” is a handy AR app for travellers:

It’s clear that we are not far from these immersive AR experiences becoming the daily norm, based on the technologies described above. We currently have a world of information available at our fingertips and it won’t be long before we have a world of information available at our eye level. When wearable technology becomes a reality for the everyday consumer, it’s only a matter of time before very practical AR uses, and the true melding of real and virtual worlds, will be possible.

To learn more about AR in the future of print, please register for my seminar at Graph Expo on September 14th, 2015: See you in Chicago!


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.