Sometimes some of our predictions about the future are way off. If anyone remembers “The Jetsons” from the 1960s, we were all on the brink of driving around in flying cars, talking robots would take care of our children and keep up the housekeeping, and we’d all be galloping around the solar system as easy as a trip down to the local supermarket.
We’ve obviously not reached that kind of future technology yet.
But there are some classic sci-fi movies where we’re finally now reaching a point where the futuristic new technology the movie predicted is actually becoming or has become our reality.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the protagonists, Heywood Floyd, makes a two way video conference call to his daughter, paying for the call using what looks like a debit card, and foreshadowing the coming of two technologies.
Making voice over IP video/audio calls with software apps like Skype and FaceTime. And electronic payment technology.
There’s a scene in Back to the Future II, where we see the future family of Marty McFly in the 21st century. Marty McFly’s son uses wearable VR glasses similar to today’s Google glasses and Oculus Rift goggles.
In the original movie version of Total Recall, we see Arnold Schwarzenegger hail a “Jonny Cab”, an autonomous taxi cab that shuttles passengers around from destination to destination. We are ALMOST on the cusp of having autonomous car technology legally allowed on our roads, and Google and Apple are both investing heavily in autonomous car technology.
And of course, let’s not forget the communicator devices which Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew used on away missions on alien planets, which were basically our portable cell phones of today.
You might remember the all-immersive holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which allowed crew members of the enterprise to enjoy a virtual reality experience that was quite literally indistinguishable from reality. Ray Bradbury’s early short story “The Veldt”, was one of the first science fiction portrayals of an all-immersive virtual reality experience.
We’re still quite far away from this VR type experience. We still need lots of bulky goggle or helmet gear to mimic the VR experience which Star Trek and Ray Bradbury predicted.
But one technology that is just a half step down from full virtual reality technology is “augmented reality”.
The military has already had augmented reality technology in the form of “HUD” or Heads-up Display technology in many of our modern jet fighters, helicopters and tanks.
A heads-up display is an electronic overlay typically placed in front of the windshield of a jet fighter or helicopter cockpit. The HUD places very useful and crucial information about a plane, helicopter or tank’s current GPS position, velocity and direction and speed information right on the HUD overlay. It even displays information about your enemy as well.
The heads-up display gives the pilot real-time information without forcing them to look down to the instrument panel to get the same information. This is a huge and vital tactical advantage because you can focus on the most important aspect of being a fighter, helicopter or tank commander, which is maneuvering and engaging in combat, and not get bogged down by the information overload one gets from the traditional instrument panel.
Only the most important and relevant information is placed on the heads up display, and it demonstrates a clear and obvious benefit of augmented reality.
Augmented reality, unlike virtual reality, doesn’t completely replace the environment of the real world with a digital world. Instead, it overlays digital augmented reality information on TOP of the real world environment.
When Nintendo released their mobile augmented reality smartphone game, Pokemon Go, it launched an instant worldwide mania of Nintendo game fanatics hunting for those famous digital Pokemon creatures, not in the confines of a traditional video game, but in the real world.
The Pokemon Go game crazy even invaded my own neighborhood, as I saw hordes of Pokemon Go zombies literally glued to their phones, and shambling about the neighborhood like the walking dead, completely unaware of their actual surroundings. There were stories of some Pokemon Go fans so glued to their screens playing the game, they ended up getting robbed or mugged, failing to pay attention to their REAL surroundings.
Pokemon Go’s augmented reality technology proved beyond the shadow of a doubt money can be made with this technology.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is clearly excited about the burgeoning field of augmented reality.
He just realized a new SDK (software development kit) library for iOS developers to add augmented reality to their iOS apps. Because every iPhone and iPad have an array of physical sensors that can measure movement and position, as well as the iPhone’s camera, they all have the physical tools to make augmented reality a reality.
During Apple’s recent yearly World Wide Developer’s Conference, they announced their augmented software library, dubbed “ARKit”.
By using the physical sensors that capture data like the physical environment around you, as well as your current position and velocity, the ARKit lets you use that physical data and melds it with whatever additional digital data you want.
I’m sure there will be a new wave of ARKit apps that arrive in Apple app store.
I can already think of some immediate and practical apps that could use augmented reality technology.
Say you’re remodeling your house and adding a new bedroom. You could use an augmented reality app on your smartphone or tablet, and use the motion sensors and physical camera to scan the contents of the open space in the room.
Once the scan process is in place, you could pick and choose digital furniture objects and pluck them inside the room to see how it would look. You could see what a fully furnished room in your house would look like, and see how best it would look, before going out into the real world to purchase your furnishings.
It would also help you save costly mistakes by choosing the wrong furniture and appliances. It might also disrupt the entire cottage industry of home decorators. After all, why hire a home decorator when you can use an augmented reality-based app to be your virtual home decorator for you?
I can already see plenty of opportunities to make educational based apps with the help of augmented reality. Parents could install a travel app on their smartphone which would let kids point their phone at a certain public building or famous landmark like the Grand Canyon or the Washington Monument, and then pull audio and visual information about those landmarks. It would help make the learning process and the desire to know more about a particular subject more fun for kids.
I’m only conjecturing here, but there’s lots of speculation that Apple is very interested in the automobile industry, either with their own Apple-branded vehicle or with using their technology to help make cars safer to drive.
What if Apple used augmented reality technology with physical sensors in the car and front windshield and side windows, to create a virtual HUD display similar to the one combat pilots currently use in jet fighters and helicopters?
Instead of having to look away from the main front windshield to look at digital information, like what you have to do now with cars equipped with LED computer displays, you could see important information about where you’re heading and turn by turn driving directions directly through your vehicle’s front windshield, so you’re never distracted by having to look away at another display.
If an oncoming car was in danger of colliding with you, the augmented reality heads-up display could immediately warn you with visual and audio warnings that a collision is imminent unless you get out of the way
Clearly, we’re entering a new age of augmented reality technology and the sky’s the limit, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.