It’s impossible to talk about the future of the Internet without also talking about these three acronyms: VR (virtual reality), AI (artificial intelligence) or AR (augmented reality).
VR is set to change the future of gaming.
AI is already in our phones in the form of GPS and Siri.
Of the three, AR is the least understood, which might be because it’s also the hardest to picture.
AR lets us experience the world the way we normally do, but with content layered over it. It’s not about taking users somewhere they’re not (like virtual reality), but about letting them see the real world differently.
And while AR may be associated with less sexy industries (think: education and industrial labor instead of gaming and entertainment), than Virtual Reality is, AR also has more potential for real world applications.
Daqri, an augmented reality company in Los Angeles, wants to use AR to change the way we work.
The software-turned-software-and-hardware company develops helmets that place content on top of the real visual world to help industrial workers do their jobs better.
These helmets put the world in context, layering information over everything the wearer sees.
For instance, a construction worker trying to fix a piece of equipment on a job site can watch a video of someone doing the exact same job in real time.
In one study, AR technology reduced errors in airplane wing assembly by 90%, even among workers doing the job for the first time.
Ultimately, Daqri wants to use the helmets to create a kind of visual Wikipedia. Someday, anyone who wears one will be able to do anything from better understanding works of art in museums to performing CPR with no training.
Daqri CEO Brian Mullins thinks the headsets will bring a new kind of literacy to the world – one that extends past reading to technology, art, and science.
“The printing press was invented when less than 10% of the world’s population could read, right?” Mullins said.
“Now global literacy is in reach. Imagine if you could apply the same thing to some form of cognitive literacy. When people are ready to learn something, they [might one day be able to] pick up an augmented reality device and just know it.”
What Mullins is suggesting is that someday Augmented Reality might grant us a deeper understanding of the entire physical world. AR screens might place content over museum masterpieces that teach us how those paintings were made–and how we can make them too. AR might also teach us CPR immediately in an emergency, or give us the skills we need to navigate in a foreign language abroad.
It’s a cool idea, but the road there will be long and winding.
The technology that goes into Daqri’s headsets is difficult and expensive to produce.
On the consumer side, wider adoption will require a major shift in the way people think about screens—from mobile phones and computers to what Mullins called “screens that you wear.”
We can’t take for granted that anyone is ready yet to embrace that change. Consider the failure of Google Glass. That technology was initially greeted with awe, but then rejected by the general population as impractical and weird.
Mullins isn’t ready to count Google Glass out though. That project, he said, helped pave the way for a future where augmented reality is the norm.
Earlier this year, Daqri acquired Melon, a startup that developed brain-wave-tracking headbands, or what Mullins called a “fitbit for the brain.”
Melon headbands analyzed brainwaves and helped detect when users were stressed or unfocused.
Daqri is applying this technology to user safety, using it to protect workers from heart attacks and strokes.
But in the future, Mullins hopes to use it to make augmented reality even more accessible.
“Someday we will actually use intent in the brain to control devices,” he said.
What that means is that down the line, technology may allow users to control the augmented world using only their thoughts.
For Mullins, that’s only one step on the road to building a more interconnected, self-directed world—one in which everyone has access to all the information they need at all times.
His goal is for Daqri’s hardware to foster natural curiosity and help people keep learning for their entire lives.
That way, he said, “Instead of having a small percentage of our planet solving all the problems, everyone will have a chance to do that in their lifetimes. Seven billion artists and scientists–that’s the future of augmented reality.”