3D Government: How Will Augmented Reality (AR) Disrupt the Future of Technology?

Bold claims are again being made by hot new startups and the technology giants about the coming age of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications. While most of the focus has been on gaming, retail and travel, the impact for governments could be huge. Here’s why.

by / June 12, 2016
Credit: Shutterstock/Yuganov Konstantin

It was another early Monday morning on the treadmill. While jogging, I was flipping through the Weather Channel: “Severe storms in Florida.” Headline News — “Golden State trounces Cleveland in game 2 of the NBA Finals.” CNN: “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton prep for California primary.” And ... CNBC Squawk Box: “These glasses will change the technology world as we know it. The smartphone will be replaced.”

I stopped the treadmill. (I rarely do that in the middle of a workout) and asked myself: “Really! Again?”

My memory instantly took me back to the Google Glass unveiling in 2012 — and the many troubles, including privacy. You may remember that Google Glass was even banned from bars, movie theaters, Las Vegas casinos and many other places.

Back to CNBC, and the hosts peppered Jules Urbach, CEO of OTOY, with questions about how these glasses could provide both augmented reality and virtual reality solutions. (Note: You can see a picture of Mr. Urbach with his cool glasses in this Venturebeat article.) They asked lots of questions like: Why will VR/AR be different than last time? How is the battery life? Can it compete with other VR headset offerings?

The answers sounded good and certainly got me thinking about this topic again — leading this blog. 

Brothers in Reality: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Defined

Back in January 2015, I pronounced that: “Virtual Reality Will Be More Than A Game Changer.” And yet, 18 months later, many problems to mass adoption still persist — including cost. Nevertheless, many experts now think we are getting closer to virtual disruption. 

So what is the difference between augmented and virtual reality?

Virtual reality (VR) focuses on the creation of virtual worlds that users can interact with. These virtual worlds often have avatars that represent people and animals. Furthermore, VR is achieved by wearing a VR helmet, goggles or special connected glasses.

Augmented reality (AR) is the blending of virtual reality and real life. Developers create images within applications that interact with contents in the real world. With AR, users are able to intermingle with virtual contents in the real world, but users can distinguish between the two.

AR and VR share the goal of immersing the user, but use different techniques. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is generally isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. As your kids know, this works especially well for gaming.

Recently, companies like OTOY, are bringing the two together in new ways using one device.

Back in April 2016, HBO and Discovery Communications announced that they have taken an equity stake in OTOY. The investment is intended to advance OTOY's holographic or augmented reality technology in hopes that the networks can present the content through their TV and digital channels. 

Other VR apps use smartphones and very inexpensive cardboard to offer apps for the classroom education. Here are a few free examples:

  • NYTVR — Virtual Reality Stories from the New York Times
    Among these, you’ll find “The Displaced” an emotionally relocating and skillfully constructed VR montage exploring a lives of three children influenced by new wars. Other selections embody an up-close demeanor during a 2016 debate route and an underwater documentary on dolphins. You can watch with or through a card viewer.
  • Aurasma
    While not privately for education, Aurasma offers an easy, classroom-friendly AR solution. Just upload a “trigger” (any tangible picture or idol in your classroom), and an analogous “overlay” (a link, video, animation, etc.). As students aim their device’s camera during several triggers, they’ll see an overlay you’ve curated.  
  • Elements 4D by DAQRI
    A chemistry app to assistance students learn about elements and their chemical reactions, what’s opposite here comes in a form of templates for DIY, print-and-fold paper dice. Each side is printed with a pitch for one of 36 elements.

A Few More VR/AR Examples, Please?

There are plenty of exciting developments in VR to watch closely. A year ago, this example from Bloomberg described the revolution occurring in travel.  

“My feet are planted firmly beneath me, but somehow I'm stepping into and through a map on the wall, when a blast of warm air ruffles my blouse. Now I'm on a sandy beach in Hawaii. A spray of clean ocean air mists my face. But before I can reach out and touch the fanned leaves of a sun-kissed palm tree, the ground beneath my feet shakes, and I've been sucked through a wormhole. Seconds later, I find myself in the swank lobby bar of a Marriott hotel.

This is advertising on steroids.

Marriott calls this a “4-D” experience, and it's one of the latest innovations in virtual reality. Delivered via an Oculus Rift headset inside a special Teleporter station, this experience is part of the hotel chain's “Travel Brilliantly” campaign. You feel as if you’re in a movie playing 360-degrees around you, all above you, underneath your feet. You don’t direct it like a video game but instead hold on and go for the ride.”

While this may seem like just another ride at Disney World, the real-world applications have a huge impact on the bottom line. The article goes on: “Currently, in 10 select Thomas Cook store locations in the U.K., Germany, and Belgium, you can strap on a Gear VR headset and try your tour before you buy: Walk through the billowing blue curtains of a Santorini hotel balcony, ride a helicopter above Manhattan's skyline. This year Cook has seen VR-promoted New York excursion revenue increase 190 percent.” 

This Inc. Magazine article offers other travel examples.  

Another popular example involves training. This article from TD.org describes the huge opportunities for training and meetings with VR.

“On the heels of VR is AR, sometimes also referred to as "mixed reality." If virtual worlds are an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole that takes us to magical virtual places, AR glasses provide a lens that superimposes digital graphics over the world around you. A 3D holographic data visualization might appear on the conference table. A PowerPoint presentation might appear on the wall. Imagine a virtual teleprompter in front of a teacher; wherever she looks she can read the script.

Instructions for complex tasks can be unobtrusively superimposed via AR glasses. Team members can be playing a business simulation with a 3D game board in front of them. A mentor can guide a technician remotely through a product installation or repair.

The potential for AR glasses that you can wear everywhere is potentially many times larger than VR. Think of VR as the PC and AR as the mobile device. VR will revolutionize learning in the classroom and office the way the PC revolutionized productivity in our offices. And AR will revolutionize learning on the go, in meetings and out in the field, the way the smartphone revolutionized mobile productivity.”

And there are plenty of VR and AR examples coming out in other industries. Here are three more:

Lenovo releases augmented reality smartphone PHAB2 Pro, Moto Z range — “There are a number of AR apps and Lenovo outlined how the technology could be used for:

  • Learning — where students can place dinosaurs or famous monuments in their classroom to explore them
  • Gaming — the electronics firm showed off a game where users had to shoot aliens that were running around a living room
  • Mapping an indoor area allowing you to walk around a museum so users can hold their phone up to a work of art and get lots of detailed information
  • Check out how furniture looks in your house before you buy it”

Visa Europe unveils augmented reality payment technology — “Users simply hold up their mobile device at the item, tap the screen, and the app will identify the item and offer the user the chance to purchase it through their pre-registered prepaid, debit or credit card.”

Ikea furniture uses augmented reality — “Thanks to augmented reality, customers of the Swedish home furnishings giant can now try out select products in their homes with the help of a printed catalog, a mobile app and a smartphone or tablet.”

What About Government Adoption?

Prototype AU applications are starting to show up in governments around the country now. This govtech.com article from earlier this year offers augmented reality examples in California, noting:

“Augmented reality will soon transform how constituents interact with their government and how California's public-sector workforce does its job, says a leading expert on smart cities.

Dr. Gregory Curtin, founder and CEO of Civic Resource Group, said during remarks Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Government Transformation conference in Sacramento that augmented reality software and devices are on the market now in products like HoloLens and Magic Leap, and there are already "profound" use cases for AR in the public sector.”

I also really like this Deloitte University Press white paper, published in February 2016: Seeing Business Through A Different Lens

Here’s an excerpt:

Already, the disruptive impact of AR and VR is being felt across consumer technologies as dozens of new products enter the market. More broadly, AR and VR are introducing new opportunities to transform the enterprise, particularly in the areas of communication and collaboration, training and simulation, and field and customer service, as well as in the reinvention of employee and customer experiences. Device costs continue to decline, standards are being defined, and app ecosystems are beginning to emerge. The combination of these influences—along with a spate of high-profile acquisitions that are shining klieg lights on AR and VR possibilities—may represent a tipping point for AR and VR’s business and technical implications—and, more importantly, for how we rethink the role of the individual in the workplace. ...

Over the next 18 to 22 months, we expect to see augmented reality and virtual reality technologies transition from the science fiction ether to the more earthly, practical realms of business and government. ..."

 

My Perspectives on VR and AR 

Back in 2011, I vastly underestimated the impact that the iPad would have on the Michigan’s state government enterprise. Could the same revolution happen with virtual reality and augmented reality glasses, or other VR devices coming into the market? I think the answer is yes, but we’re not quite there yet.

However, just as with the iPad, if we start to see massive consumer adoption of VR and AR, there will be a big push for more government use of these technologies.

No, Google Glass was not the hit that many people thought it would be. However, I would not bet against the tech giants success in this area, including Facebook, who bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014.  

Assuming virtual reality and augmented reality will eventually change government service delivery, how fast can it happen? My best guess is sometime between the middle of 2017 and the end of 2018 there will be a killer app that grabs the front-page headlines of USA Today. Everyone will want “it.” A tipping point of AU adoption will come a year or two after that.

And the time for governments to start thinking about AR and VR is now. As pointed out by the Deloitte white paper, there are cyber risks and enterprise infrastructure action items for public and private sector architects to consider. Nevertheless, it is clear that the opportunities are immense. Just as with the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and augmented reality will disrupt.

Only a few months ago, I wrote that the smartphone is rapidly replacing the PC. And now some claim VR/AR glasses will eventually replace the smartphone?

In my opinion, this will not happen anytime soon, since augmented reality apps (like the Ikea example above) are being used by new smartphones. New smartphones are now building in AR capabilities with many new apps coming. Governments (and those who support them with technology) must take note. 

Finally, I leave you with this quote, which I believe applies to the implementation of new technology in government, including AR/VR: "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." — Warren Bennis