From shopping to computing, experts say the futuristic technology could be revolutionary in impact. Augmented reality is the digital space where technology overlaps with reality.

It is experienced through a digital lens, such as a mobile device or a headset, but unlike virtual reality, it does not take you out of this world. Instead, it aims to ‘augment’ or enhance real things or spaces through an exchange of information between the physical and digital words.

Less discussed as a revolutionary tech concept than virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) is already pervasive. For example, the hugely popular app Snapchat, with at least 150 million active daily users, has turned millions of smartphones into AR platforms. Combining selfies and the futuristic technology, Snapchat filters allow users to augment the reality of their faces by overlaying digital layers in real time.

“2017 appears to be the tipping point and will be the start of mass adoption of augmented reality,”

Sam Murley, Leader of Innovation and Digital Acceleration for General Electric.

Augmented reality IE University Snapchat

Twitter users are entertained by Snapchat filters, whether they know it’s AR or not.

The phenomenally successful Pokémon Go app, which encourages gamers to go outside to catch digital monsters, is another popular example. And while AR continues to be developed for selfies and games, experts suggest the technology will become serious, and fast.

“2017 appears to be the tipping point and will be the start of mass adoption of AR,” explains Sam Murley, who leads Innovation and Digital Acceleration for General Electric.

The AR industry has been buzzing over the last few years. From the super-secret startup Magic Leap, which aims to replace computers with spectacles or lenses, to the Google Tango device-based platform and Microsoft’s HoloLens, there has been major investment in the industry. Those who have tested these new products (either released or unreleased) say that they have the possibility to revolutionize everyday life.

Augmented reality IE University

Image from Microsoft’s HoloLens demonstration. This application aims to teach medical students about the human body. Photo: Microsoft

Reimagining retail

While the commercial applications of the technology seem boundless, the retail sector has started to dabble in AR to improve the customer experience.  But will it really change how we shop?

“It’s a game changer and it’s really going to shake up the industry; maybe within a year or so this technology will be a common part of the shopping experience,” says Lindsay Boyajian, chief marketing officer at Augment, a leading US-based AR platform.

Take IKEA and other furniture stores for example. They are already using AR to give clients the opportunity to try out different furniture at home. People looking to decorate or renovate their homes can use 3D visualizations of furniture, flooring or accessories to test out the look and fit before making a decision.

“Before IKEA incorporated augmented reality into its catalogue, buyers didn’t have that type of context and level of confidence during the purchase process.  Retailers are also leveraging it to understand how buyers are interacting with their brand,” says Murley.

Zsofia Kerekes, the marketing manager for Catchoom, agrees. Catchoom is a Barcelona-based company that started in 2011 and provides a leading platform for AR and image-recognition.

“Augmented reality adds real value to the shopping experience,” she says, pointing to a study by Gartner that predicts that by 2020, 85% of retail interactions will be conducted between customers and technology. 

Words of wisdom

Despite making leaps and bounds in recent years, the technology and its applications are still being shaped. Whether it helps humans eradicate the constraints of physical space or it turns us into unwilling cyborgs, dependent on technology and constantly monitored, will be partially in the hands of the future generation.

“Just be curious. It’s a new field so there’s no right or wrong way to get into it. Get involved in the community, use your imagination.” – Lindsay Boyajian, Augment.

 “It’s an exciting time. This technology is in its infancy but maturing very quickly. No matter what field you’re interested in, whether its marketing, design, architecture, art, sports, retail, manufacturing, ecommerce or more, AR will be a key tool to add to your tool box for jobs of the future.” – Sam Murley, Leader of Innovation and Digital Acceleration for General Electric.

“If you have a cool idea, don’t be daunted by the need to develop the technology yourself. A lot of the technology already exists and you can use it as a base to bring your ideas to life.” – Zsofia Kerekes, Catchoom

**Written by: The Report Company – Alyssa McMurtry for IE University