Sep 8, 2015
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
Jay Wright is a Qualcomm Connected Experiences Vice President in charge of the Qualcomm Vuforia mobile vision platform. Previously, Jay worked in what is now Qualcomm Research, where he and his team focused on new technologies beyond the core cellular market. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Qualcomm.
It might sound strange coming from me, but increasingly, I’m frustrated by the limits of technology. Here’s a good example: I often serve as tech support for friends and family. Because of this, I end up in maddening phone conversations, in which the person on the other end of the line tries to explain a problem that I can’t see, and therefore can’t do much about.
Being the go-to person isn’t what frustrates me—it’s that I know there could be a better way for me to help them. Truth is, every day I’m surrounded by the solution: Augmented reality (AR). Platforms like Qualcomm Vuforia could let anyone swoop in at a moment’s notice to help family, friends, and colleagues—to be superheroes in our own way.
Take troubleshooting a cable box issue for my folks, as an example. Mom could point her phone at the box, just as if she were taking a picture or video. But instead of taking a picture, she’d actually be sharing her view with me, so I could see whatever she sees. (Not earth-shattering, but bear with me for a second; things are about to get interesting.) I could then draw on her screen just like an NFL sportscaster marks up plays on my TV. “Press the reset button,” I’d say, marking the reset button with a red circle that stays anchored in place even as she moves her phone around, “then wait for this light to flash green,” as I circle an LED.
The potential for this type of remote assistance is limitless. Imagine, for instance, a doctor guiding someone in a remote location through treatment of a serious injury, a parent assisting a child with a project for school, your handyman friend helping you with a project, or even Grandma walking you through her super-secret family recipes. (Think of it like a YouTube demo, but turned up to 11.)
All of this, however, relies on more-advanced computer vision technology than what most AR applications use today. Specific images and objects, such as a page in the Guinness World Records “See It In 3D” series, are needed to trigger most AR experiences. Newer apps go a step further, by allowing you to place other real-world objects within a scene. For last year’s FIFA World Cup, for instance, the McDonald’s GOL! app transformed French fry sleeves into goals in a virtual soccer game. From there, the world could expand: Players could place other real-world objects (say, a drink or a burger) in the playing field and bank shots off those objects to earn extra points.
The ultimate goal for vision-based AR is for phones and tablets to see the world as we do—to identify exactly what an object is and where it’s located. That means, at some point, my Mom will be able to get the help she needs without me stepping in; her phone will know what’s she’s looking at and will be able to provide her assistance automatically. (I hope she’ll still give me a call, if only to let me know how much she loves her phone.)
AR’s eventual move from your hand to your head will explode this potential, freeing up our hands from laptops, phones, and tablets during even the most mundane tasks. You won’t need a computer when you’re wearing glasses that let you visualize a computer screen. You won’t need a TV, because you’ll be able to visualize one wherever it’s convenient—whether on your wall or suspended above you as you lie in bed.
Admittedly, there are big challenges to reaching that future. First, we have to embed sufficient computing power in eyewear that’s actually wearable. The good news there is that the trajectory for smaller, more-powerful chipsets is well known: Companies like Qualcomm are innovating in this space all the time. The tougher piece of the puzzle will be developing new display systems that don’t force us into tunnel vision or cause eye strain. While early offerings like the ODG R7 and Microsoft HoloLens are amazing feats of engineering, their display areas engage too little of our field of view. Further, they can become uncomfortable on our eyes when displaying content at varying distances in front of us.
A lot of smart people are already working hard on these problems. In fact, billions of dollars have been invested by some of the largest names in tech—Facebook dropping $2 billion on Oculus, anyone?—to make this vision a reality and define what experts are already describing as the next (and possibly last) computing platform.
Despite the technical challenges ahead, there will be plenty of excitement along the way. We’ll continue to see new AR experiences on phones and tablets that push the limits of computer vision and change the way we play, shop, learn, and work. And as these apps become increasingly common, eyewear will evolve alongside them, continuing its transformation into the everyman’s superhero mask of the future.
Qualcomm Vuforia is a product of Qualcomm Connected Experiences, Inc.