Augmented reality pioneer hails technology's potential

Tuesday 29 April 2014 10.31
AR is technology which superimposes graphic, video, text and other images onto real life scenes in real time
AR is technology which superimposes graphic, video, text and other images onto real life scenes in real time

A former director of Keyhole - which became the foundation for Google Earth - has predicted big things for augmented reality (AR) technology by 2020.

He believes AR technology will have developed to such an extent that it will be impossible for people looking at the world through smart devices to differentiate what is real from what is not.

Comparing this year to 1992, Dave Lorenzini said 2014 will the best year in well over a decade for developments in hardware, software and contextualisation technology.

AR is technology that superimposes graphic, video, text and other images onto real life scenes in real time.

A number of devices capable of running AR services are already available or in development.

Speaking at the AR Marketing Conference in Dublin, Mr Lorenzini told delegates that technology advancements over the next few years will mean that AR services will shortly be at the level of movie quality special effects.

As a result, he said, AR would supercharge all other media. 

Mr Lorenzini helped create Keyhole, a mapping technology that was bought by Google in 2004 and was subsequently turned into Google Earth.

He now runs the Glassware Foundry, a private business unconnected to Google, which helps developers to take advantage of Glass - Google's new head worn computer and optical display, that can carry out a variety of tasks, including some involving AR. 

Mr Lorenzini said AR is currently a shadow of what it is going to be, and is not widely understood.

However, he added that it will soon be seamlessly integrated into our lives, meaning that people will only have to look at something to see something else that is "really cool".

Referencing Facebook's recent $2bn purchase of virtual reality headset business, Oculus Rift, Mr Lorenzini said Mark Zuckerberg probably put on the headset and decided this was the future.

A member of the Explorer programme of developers, Mr Lorenzini has been trialling Google Glass for some time.

Debunking some of the myths about the technology, he said it is a work in progress, the battery only lasts up to two hours with heavy use, and that it will cost $300-600 to buy when it becomes generally available later this year. 

He said the best things about Glass are that it provides effortless access to AR, is brilliant for accessing help when travelling and that its head tracking technology will be great for gaming.

However, he said a number of issues remain with the technology, including concerns around privacy, social norms and the user interface.

He said it would provide huge opportunities for businesses, such as real estate agents for example, who would be able to provide virtual walk-throughs of properties.

He also said that AR devices such as Glass would be a hugely important tool for marketers and in education.

He said the recently announced partnership between Google and a number of glass frame manufacturers would help to make wearable technology such as Glass more socially acceptable.