How We Bring Augmented Reality to Life
Bringing Augmented Reality (AR) projects to life continues to be a fun challenge. Graphics and processing technology have advanced rapidly over the past few years, creating space for more intricate developments and applications. This has paved the way for new user experiences for both desktop and mobile users. Among the most exciting is the emergence of “XR Technology”, the blanket term for Augmented and Virtual Reality.
XR Technology is often referred to as simply “Augmented Reality”, but in fact there are distinctions that separate these high-tech disciplines.
AUGMENTED REALITY – AR
Since you’re already an AR specialist from our previous blog post, this one will be quick. Augmented Reality is when a digital image is overlaid onto the real world. It is most known for its role in Pokémon Go, Snapchat, and Facebook filters, though organizations have been adapting this technology to a variety of industries.
For example, IKEA has made the buying process easier for customers by allowing customers to digitally place items directly into their home using their mobile app.
One challenge facing AR technology is the lack of seamless integration on devices. Currently, users must open a different app to use AR features, instead of being about to interact with them through their internet browser, such as Safari. Though, this seems to be changing – technology leaders, like Apple and Shopify, are working toward this seamless integration.
VIRTUAL REALITY – VR
Virtual Reality (VR) is where you take a virtual world and fill it with virtual elements. While it is mostly used in gaming, there are a variety of applications for VR technologies outside of gaming. Other industries include military, healthcare, and transportation.
For example, the military uses VR simulations for training purposes to re-create different scenarios. The training simulations are useful for dangerous situations that could be life threating. With VR technology, the military can train for these situations without risk of death or injury.
The largest challenge VR faces is that it requires additional hardware, such as a headset and controllers. While there are inexpensive options, like Google Cardboard, it does not provide the full experience. This is a huge barrier when it comes to users being able to experience VR technology. While VR technologies are being used is specialized situations, we still expect it to be a while before we see it in day-to-day life.
MIXED REALITY – XR
Mixed Reality (MR) is created by taking the real world and mixing in digital elements to be interacted with. It combines VR and AR technologies, where it requires a headset and controllers, though instead of a virtual world, you’re in the real world and you can interact with the elements that appear.
For example, you work at an architecture firm and you’re designing an office for a client. Your team can work simultaneously on the design in an organic way, which allows MR technologies to be leveraged to create more meaningful designs. There are a number of practical applications for MR, but with the ample hardware needed to provide this experience, we’re unlikely to see MR trickling down into B2C verticals until a few years down the road.
WHY AR AND WHY NOW?
A common question we receive is “Why AR and why now?” Here at Sherpa AR Studio, we strongly believe in staying on the leading edge and investing in next-generation technologies. When we first discovered AR technology, we knew that it could be utilized in a variety of industries, with endless applications. Equipped with this knowledge – and a team of ambitious and talented developers and designers – we made a conscious choice to dive in head-first and get in front of the XR boom.
In time, our initial bullish beliefs were affirmed when tech giants, like Facebook and Apple, began releasing updates and creation platforms that support AR development.
So why start now? In short, we believe AR technology is at a point where clients can really take full advantage of all it can do. The technology has reached a critical point where the tools to execute mind-blowing XR solutions exists, but adoption is still at the bottom of a steep upward hill. This makes it a phenomenal time for brands to start dreaming beyond their current reality.
Seamless integration is getting closer. For example, to use the aforementioned IKEA item placing feature, users currently have to download the IKEA app. Once this seamless integration has been implemented, AR features will be available to use in-browser, so customers can experience the technology without any storage-bloating app downloads. This means that while browsing on Safari via the latest iPhone, you’ll be able to place your IKEA designs into your home without leaving the website.
AR TOOLS WE USE
Like any builder worth their salt, we have an AR toolbox filled with the best tools available.
ARCore. ARCore is Google’s Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows for AR applications to be built specifically for Android devices.
ARKit. Similar to ARCore, ARKit is Apple’s SDK that allows for AR applications to be built specifically for iOS devices.
Vuforia. Vuforia is an SDK too, though it is a third-party software and apps built within can be deployed to both Android and iOS devices. We use Vuforia specifically for image recognition and placement.
Unity. We use Unity to tie ARCore, ARKit, and Vuforia together. Unity is a development software/platform and we use ARCore, ARKit, and Vuforia inside of Unity to develop applications that can be deployed to a variety of platforms.
Blender. Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite. While it supports the entire 3D pipeline, we use it to develop 3D models and environments.
While we’ve completed a variety of projects, we’d like to highlight a couple projects to showcase how AR technology can be applied.
Sherpa AR worked with McMaster Engineering to enhance their “Welcome Kit”, an information package sent out to new students. The “Welcome Kit” featured embedded AR markers printed throughout the kit, which created unexpected new interactions with a traditional printed piece.
This unexpected experience was new and engaging to students and faculty – check out the video below!
A quick disclaimer about this project. It does not officially fall under the XR technology category, though we thought it was a unique way of unwrapping a full VR experience that is more accessible – plus it was one of our favourite projects, so we had to share.
Climate FieldView is a relatively new digital agriculture product in Canada, creating a buzz was necessary. Education and increasing awareness were the main objectives for this project. Sherpa Marketing and Sherpa AR conceptualized a 360° experience in the form of a customer walkthrough that would take viewers through a year of using the Climate FieldView platform within a trailer that could be taken from a tradeshow to a promotional event.
Using 360° filming technology, we captured farmers in real situations, then added branding and creative elements in post-production to ensure the tradeshow attendees could understand how the FieldView platform could be used throughout the year on their own farms.
Check out the video below to see the full experience!