Dr. Ronald Azuma, Research Leader at Nokia Research Center and an accomplished scholar in the field of augmented reality, walked attendees at AR Immersion 2010 through a history of augmented reality and its motivations, starting with early military and medical prototypes which focused on professional applications.
Today, interest in AR centers around mass market applications. Mass market adoption is being driven by increasing CPU and GPU power, smarter computer vision algorithms, small, inexpensive sensors (in webcams, mobile phones, and video game peripherals), smartphones, and increasing usage of AR in marketing and advertising. Recently, AR has also been popularized by commercial conferences, a proliferation of global startups in the AR space, and a sense of commercial “critical mass”.
The future of AR holds many challenges. On the technical side: better displays, ubiquitous tracking and registration in outdoor spaces, and user interface design. However, Azuma noted that the most important challenge for AR will not be in technical specs but rather on the design, art, and business side. AR must create compelling experiences and stories to leap to the next level, to create a work as powerful as Citizen Kane was in moving the film industry from the flickers of “moving trains” in the early 1900s to a true art form.
Azuma illustrated capabilities of AR that were unique to the medium. It can capture the story and essence of a unique, powerful, evocative location such as Gettysburg. AR can also employ mixed reality effects and have the audience walk through a linear story. In one example, a hand drawn map became a basic part of the interface for an AR experience.
Azuma concluded by asking the audience, “What was the value of sending a man to the moon?” The answer: to gain a new perspective, to see the earth in a way in which it has never been perceived before. AR, too, allows us to see and improve our world from a new perspective.