Top 10 Augmented Reality News of 2012

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10. Wireless Augmented Reality Contact Lenses

Augmented Reality Contact LensesSpawned only in the last few days, the latest augmented reality breakthrough is already giving hope to AR enthusiasts who are dreaming of an augmented reality future like the one presented in the short film Sight. A team of bio-engineers have managed to successfully embed an antenna, radio receiver, control circuitry, and LED into a wearable contact lens. If you are hoping to get the Terminator-like vision soon you might be disappointed to find out that this crude model is still being tested on animals. It will be at least a few years until you might get this under your Christmas tree.

9. Ikea Augmented Reality App

It may not be the first to use augmented reality in a shopping catalogue, it may not be the one using the latest AR applications and it may not even use AR in a very sexy and fascinating way. But it is certainly the first company to try to promote an augmented reality application on a large scale through the 211 million copies of their product catalogue every year.  When you look through your smartphone’s camera at the pictures in the catalogue, extra features and information will be revealed, similar to an “X-ray” machine. We can only wait for 2013 to see how successful this approach will be for the Swedish furniture company. One thing is for sure though: it will promote augmented reality to the masses.

8. IBM AR Shopping App

IBM Augmented Reality Shopping AppWhen a tech giant like IBM gets involved in a new technology area like augmented reality it can only mean one thing: there is a great market opportunity.  Their prototype of the AR shopping app allows users to receive personalised product information while browsing through their favourite stores. Using their smartphone’s camera they will be able to “see” the ingredients of a product, reviews, special promotions, dietary information and much more, all linked to their pre-set preferences. Although there are no details regarding what features/ functionality this app will include in the final release it clearly has the potential to change the offline world (until now) of in-store merchandising.

7. Life Clipper AR Experience

One of the most exciting and surreal augmented reality projects of 2012, the Life Clipper has managed to create a multi-sensorial environment anchored in reality and fully opened to exploration and human interaction. Walking through an equatorial forest with grass the size of a person and coloured fish flying around you seems as real as a day out in your local park. Although still a prototype, Life Clipper might someday become the technology of choice when we want to unwind after a stressful day at work, when we want to walk through our soon-to-be-built house or when we want to experience the life of William Shakespeare in his birth town.

6. Ingress – AR Game

Google Ingress AR AppThe world’s most talked about augmented reality mobile game – Google’s Ingress – has taken the technology websites by storm in the recent weeks. Using the very popular MMORPG structure, an intriguing mystery story and backed up by Google’s branding, the AR game is definitely gathering followers very quickly. Further helped by a closed-beta version (for now) and Google’s promise that it will most likely be released for the general public in a couple of years, this alternate reality game is further increasing in popularity. What Google will do with all the personal information gathered from its players and how this will be used for targeted live AR adverts it is still a mystery.

5. Augmented Reality Patents

In 2012 more companies than ever have invested time and money to protect something that doesn’t exist yet. Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Google are only a few of the big technology players who have applied and obtained patents for AR-based technologies. Head mounted displays with augmented reality capabilities and 3D surround sound systems are only some patents these giants have fought for this year. This means only one thing: “Something big is coming” (to paraphrase Samsung’s tagline) in the next couple of years that has the augmented reality concept at its core and which might shake the entertainment industry (and not only) from its very roots.

4. Better AR browsers

Nokia AR BrowserAugmented reality browsers are not something new in the AR landscape but the speed in which they have evolved in 2012 is definitely news-worthy. HTML 5 and CSS 3 integration, easy to use SDKs, improved image recognition, new and better 3D rendering, improved user interface and better integration with other offline and online channels are only some of the new features added this year. The increasing competition (especially between the four major players Layar, Junaio, Wikitude and Aurasma) has positively affected the speed and quality of these developments, however it is not yet sure if the end user is so enthusiastic in taking advantage of them, based on the mixed reviews from Google Play and App Market.

3. Improved Augmented Reality SDKs and Platforms

Because each AR experience is as good as the SDK or platform used to create it, there is no surprise that 2012 has seen a massive improvement in the number and features of the SDKs available for developers. Metaio SDK, Qualcom’s Vuforia, Wikitude SDK or Total Immersion’s D’Fusion Studio have made AR application development easier, fluent, cost-effective and most importantly better supported on different mobile and computer platforms. Some of these are also now available for non-developers for easy-to-build AR applications which don’t require any coding.  Metaio Creator is one of the first to provide a desktop, drag-and-drop interface opening AR production to a wider audience. With more developers and casual users getting involved in building AR applications, this area is expected to grow considerably in 2013 both in terms of size and quality.

2. Zugara’s Webcam Social Shopper (Plugin and Patent)

Virtual dressing rooms that use AR technology to show how different clothes and accessories look on you in real time, without having to move from your computer screen, are nothing new in the AR landscape. Many companies have already used it with real success, increasing their conversion rate by more than 50% (Banana Flame). However, with so many companies offering this lucrative technology to online retailers, how do you protect your investment as a developer? You create a plugin that can be added to your content management system and easily used out of the box and then you protect your virtual fitting room with a patent. Take that competition!  Zugara is the first company to achieve this with their Webcam Social Shopper. How their competition will react and whether this patent will slow down development in this field remains to be seen.

1. Project Glass

Google Project GlassThe news that triggered a massive interest from the AR community and technology enthusiasts everywhere is Google’s announcement of a new breed of portable mobile device – Google Glasses. Following the mounting pressure from the likes of Sony, Microsoft or Apple who have been ‘harvesting’ AR head-up display patents for a while, Google was in a hurry to showcase the prototype of their first pair of augmented reality glasses. Many updates, improvements and demo videos have continued to keep the interest alive since their initial announcement in April 2012.

Based on the number of fashion shows appearances and non-conventional entrances in technology conferences, it seems that Google is trying to build the demand for their AR glasses as a must-have accessory and not necessarily as a gadget. Although this might appeal to a larger audience their final success will come down to the price and functionality Google Glasses will have when they will be mass-launched. And with the AR contact lenses now entering the same industry, it will be interesting to see if Google will opt for two versions (glasses and contact lenses) as personal tastes and health and safety implications will also need to be considered.

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