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Author: Steve Jenkins
21st January 2014

Where next for Augmented Reality?

Web Designer talks to Keiichi Matsuda, one of AR’s most active visionaries, where the technology is today and where his latest film project hopes to push it

Where next for Augmented Reality?

Keiichi Matsuda is a designer and filmmaker, best associated for his experimental work within the realms of augmented reality. His mixed-media approach can be regarded as a touchstone for visualising a reality where man and machine converge more closely.

Currently producing a new AR film series, the first film was funded on Kickstarter, with investment now being invited for the rest of the series. This includes working with sponsors to update their businesses for the hyper-real future and create new visions through design and fiction. Taking a break from filming, Matsuda began by explaining where consumer AR may well be heading next.
“AR always came in many different flavours, but the most successful in the past have been the ‘magic mirror’, product-focused type of marker-based AR, and the ‘magic lens’, environment-focused type that uses the device’s compass, gyroscope and accelerometers in the place of a marker. AR has come a long way since then, and SLAM-based systems that use computer vision to build maps of environments are becoming mainstream.

“Developers are also finding better ways to use AR. HIT Lab’s beautiful ColAR app is one of the nicest uses of AR I’ve ever seen, playing heavily on the ‘magical’ aspect of the technology. As for the future, there is a lot to look out for. AR giant Metaio have developed a dedicated AR chipset that looks like a huge step forward for smartphone AR, and Google Glass is pointing the way to an immersive, always-on AR experience. It’s still very immature, but it’s the future.” The future maybe, but one of the obstacles such a ‘magical’ technology can face is becoming a buzz that fades away. AR was a hot prospect a few years back, but is it becoming an unfulfilled novelty?

“The speed of marketing hype and expectation far exceeds the speed of actual technological progress. Because of that, there is always a cycle of buzz and dismissal with any emerging technology. AR had it particularly tough, with so many inappropriate and gimmicky uses of the technology in the last generation. The buzz of three years ago is coming back again though, giving new people new ideas about what AR could do beyond being a marketing tool. As I try to depict in my films, I think we’ve still only seen the tip of the iceberg with what AR can do. AR will be a very disruptive technology as it advances. Although dismissal by the media can damage generations, the underlying implications of AR are alluring enough that it will keep rearing its head.”
Keiichi’s work plays a role in firing people’s imaginations, using an artistic approach to stimulate scientific expression: “My work is intended to be a provocation. It’s a counterpoint to the glossy futuristic videos produced by the big tech companies. I’m not trying to sell the technology, I’m trying to give people the tools to gain a critical understanding of emerging technologies, and so they can decide how they want their future to be.

“It’s important, because technological progress has become so centred on economics. We feel like our future will only be determined by market force. I believe that through design and fiction, we can give normal people a voice in the creation of the future, and inspire developers to build systems that will improve our world.”
For many, Keiichi’s work will raise the question of when his fabulously futuristic AR worlds could materialise: “There are two things to consider. On the one hand, the technology is close. Maybe five years. But the adoption of technology takes longer, as it relies on cultural change, not to mention the amount of infrastructure required for a fully immersive AR city. “Having said that, it might not be as far as we could imagine. Lots of smart people are working on AR, and the financial incentives are there, so I would hazard an estimate at 15 years. However, my projects aren’t about predicting the future. They are about understanding the present, and the choices we are making now. The future I imagine may never happen, but I believe that creating visions of the future can have an impact on our world.”

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    • Rob Manson

      ColAR from HITLabs is a beautiful example and Glass and wearables are definitely going to have a massive impact on the future of AR.

      But the real future of AR is the Web itself. See these examples of Location based AR (http://youtu.be/OJHgBSRJNJY) and Marker based AR (http://youtu.be/X_XR9VbQPeE) running in standard web browsers.