Introducing: Extended Reality (XR)
Science fiction comic books and films have paved the way for us to imagine what our future might look like.
Be it Tony Stark trying to re-discover the particle that his father had worked on those many years ago without proper technology or Jake Sully trying to explain the structure and characteristics of The Tree of Souls in Pandora to Colonel Miles, in James Cameroon's movie Avatar (2009). The projection of a virtually existing world right on top of the real one has been depicted in quite a lot of movies. Most of these are being referred to, to create immersive technologies today.
Technologies that create an extension of the real or the physical world come under the umbrella term "Extended Reality" or XR. This technology attempts to recreate experiences, as close to the physical world as possible, by trying to stimulate auditory, vision, and in advanced cases tactile sensations.
XR includes Augmented Reality(AR), Virtual Reality(VR), Mixed Reality(MR), and everything in between and beyond.
Spatial computing technology has enabled us to create virtual worlds in which a subject experiences the recreation of the physical/digital world while being fully immersed in the virtual realm. This helps in enhancing the user's experience further.
XR is helping bridge the gap between customers, the data being accessed, and the experience. Immersive technologies allow for immense flexibility when it comes to time and space. Some of the leaders in various industries are moving towards such immersive experiences to address pain points in different sectors of their businesses.
What Is Augmented Reality And How Does It Work?
Well, imagine you opened your phone or tablet camera, held it up to click a picture of your dining room and you see a dining table as part of your dining room on your camera. That is exactly what Augmented Reality (a.k.a AR) does, placing objects through your camera out of thin air.
On a serious note, AR virtually places objects in a real-world scenario to give you a glance at how the object would look if it were existing in that surroundings.
Source: Interaction Design Foundation
Around the year 1957, a cinematographer called Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama. This non-computer-controlled device had features of visuals, vibration, sounds, and smell that was augmented over an existing experience. This was when the world got briefly introduced to Augmented Reality.
We have come a long way from the time when the term Augmented Reality was coined by Thomas P Caudell of Boeing in 1990 to times when Augmented Reality is helping improve and live experiences beyond our real world.
The last decade has been a boon to the digital/tech industry in terms of innovation and creativity. Ever since the release of the game "Pokémon Go" in the year 2016, the terms extended reality or immersive technology have taken a huge leap.
The game interface made use of AR to help the players capture Pokémon by physically travelling to different places and spanning their phone cameras to spot the characters. All it needed was a smartphone with a camera and a processor to understand that environment and actively simulate a virtual object placed into that environment.
Because it requires the least amount of computing, augmented reality is the most commonly adopted of all XR technologies.
Applications of Augmented Reality
AR finds its place in various industries such as manufacturing, the military or the armed forces of a nation, medical science, gaming etc.
The Armed Forces were one of the earliest to adopt this technology seeing its potential in training their candidates wherein, simulations of scenarios were built for the trainees to practice with.
- The Armed Forces
Source: The U.S. Army
The US Army has been using AR to prepare their soldiers for better combat skills through a system they call Tactical Augmented Reality(TAR). This is being experimented with features that enhance the way the soldiers can differentiate between friends and foes, as well as improve night vision.
- The IKEA App
Source: Inter IKEA Systems
Another interesting application of this technology was implemented in late 2019, by the multinational conglomerate, IKEA. They built an app that could help customers augment furniture inside their homes or anywhere else to see how they would look if they were placed in a certain position or place. This helped IKEA boost its customer reach and enhance the user experience holistically.
Lenskart is another brand that has used AR tech to customize a user's experience through their 3D Try On service. This allows the user to try on frames virtually to get a glimpse of how the glasses would look for them instead of going through the tedious process of going to the store to try on several of them. Customers can create a 3D mesh of their face within 5 seconds and try on as many as 10,000 designs in one session.
- Medical Science
Medical Sciences is another field that could make the best use of immersive tech. The tech can help improvise on techniques used to train medical students for surgeries, with real-time scenarios and also make it easier for doctors to explain complex issues to patients and their relatives.
Similarly, many more brands have taken to AR to give their users an experience that they could cherish, such as the Disney colouring book that allows kids to see their artwork as a 3D model or the L'Oreal Makeup app that behaves like a camera filter but helps the user choose what kind of makeup they want and how they would look like with a certain shade of colour of a specific product.
A lot more applications of AR are being implemented or experimented with by various brands to augment their user's experience including the AR headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens that are truly leading-edge technology.
Designing for Augmented Reality
We all have surely come very far from the initial print designs. Designing for technology has taken a huge leap and has sparked the interest of a lot of people around the world. Taking into consideration how important it is for brands to be able to cater to their customer's requirements in the best way possible, emerging technologies surely help with enhancing the user experience.
Similarly, Augmented Reality has also led to companies realizing that there is more than just one traditional way to reach out to more people around the world.
Well, AR is still in a stage where the flexibility to design for the tech is infinite as there are no principles of any sort defined. Some simple concepts could be considered to design for emerging technology such as AR.
- Make more use of real-world objects. This allows the user to stay connected with their surroundings and the augmented object.
- Keep the users curious. Hint at more things to come.
- Minimalism applies to AR as well.
- Keep the user aware of what is happening by using text or audio to explain the activities.
- Last but never least, make it look good.
To Sum It All Up
Augmented Reality has been subjected to umpteen experiments from the time it has come into being. The tech has surely come a long way from portraying their use in movies to all the existing applications in real time today. It is also believed that AR compared to VR, can be more sustainable and flexible as it is as simple as adding a layer to something in the real world. This experience connects with people and their real-world experiences.
The integration of real-world experiences with the world of AR will be one of the biggest challenges user experience designers will face. Surely, the growth and applications of this technology cannot be surmised as it will never fail to surprise us.