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Handheld Technology

What does the Blippar deal mean for Augmented Reality?

Yesterday small British startup Blippar announced the close of a $54 million Series D funding round. This put its total money close to $100.5 million. But why are so many people interested and what’s all the fuss about Augmented Reality anyway?

 

Why should we be interested in Blippar?

Blippar uses a smartphone app to overlay information onto real-world objects. When it started in 2011 in was mostly used by advertisers and marketers – as sort of updated version of QR codes. Now it also serves up information on things like plants, animals and your food.

The natural next step will be a move into schools to create easier visual learning experiences. This is exactly the kind of uses technology pundits were tipping for AR several years back but which never really materialised in practice.

 

How do Google Glass and other bespoke pieces of AR kit fit into this picture?

There are two sides to Augmented Reality. One is the use of a smartphone to overlay information onto the physical world. The other is the use of smart glasses and other headsets to provide more details of an environment. Google Glass may have been a rather high profile failure but other organisations are producing better quality more useful products.

The Epson smart glasses offer a solid practical upgrade on Google Glass. Yet perhaps the most interesting example of Augmented Reality headwear, showcased at Mobile World Congress this year, is the Daqri. This is worth talking about because it is a durable helmet – of the kind an engineer or workman might wear anyway – only it pulls in extra data in to help professionals do their jobs more effectively. This means it can help individuals diagnose all manner of issues all while dressed as they normally would.

 

Is there a more ‘exciting’ end of AR?

Yes, but it isn’t ready yet. Last month Magic Leap raised $793.5m in what could be the biggest Series C round ever. This was for technology that doesn’t exist.

The Magic Leap promise is that it will project virtual 3D objects into your actual field of vision. This means there would be no need for smart glasses or smartphone augmentation. It does look to be some way from becoming reality though.

 

So, how does AR fit in with VR?

There has been a lot of emphasis on Virtual Reality over the last few months. Yet its close sister Augmented Reality has been quietly gaining a foothold. This is because it is easier to see immediate practical advantages to overlaying extra information onto the physical world than submerging yourself in a fake one – especially for business.

 

Why does AR have the edge over VR at present?

The problems with VR are well rehearsed. It can cause nausea and confusion, it is expensive to produce and despite all the cutting edge headsets about to hit the market it is still very early days for this technology. It’s mostly for gamers and training. AR on the other hand has been through its first massive piece of failure kit with Google glass and now sturdier more usable models are emerging for businesses.

Companies like Blippar are also very accessible and help showcase the benefits of this type of technology in everyday life.

 

So, what does all this really mean?

In theory Augmented Reality should help end bafflement at the times that matter. Most of us – well me anyway – spend a lot of our lives not really knowing what is going on. This is fine the majority of the time but can mean the difference between life and death in a medical setting. The promise of Virtual Reality may be to emerge yourself in an unreal world. The promise of Augmented Reality is to add helpful details to aid navigating actual reality.

 

 

Further reading:

Augmented Reality: Consumers, gorillas and unicorns

Epson VP talks binocular smartglasses and European expansion

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