You’re at work, flipping through emails that hang in mid-air. Graphs, text messages and pictures pop up on your desk, then disappear. Bored, you sit back and watch a jellyfish bob across the ceiling.
This is augmented reality – real life only better, bedazzled with digital displays. AR is the next futuristic fantasy the tech industry wants to conquer, and in 2017 it may finally happen.
You can watch a video demo of the above scene courtesy of secretive Florida start-up Magic Leap. This shows a head-mounted display overlaying surroundings with a broad array of eye-popping graphics — including a game in which you shoot enemy robots as they pop up around you. The release date for Magic Leap’s technology is still unknown – it may be a few years off yet – but you can already get a taste of some AR experiences.
This year, California-based developer Niantic released the AR smartphone game Pokémon Go and Microsoft started shipping the HoloLens, a headset that lets you interact with digital displays only you can see. You could also pick up Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro, the first phone to use Google’s Tango AR platform. Tango apps include an AR tape measure tool, a solar system simulator and a shopping tool that lets you see how furniture would look in your home.
“Your surroundings will be overlaid with eye-popping graphics”
AR enthusiasts envisage the technology being used in the workplace, as well as just for fun. Factory workers could learn to use a new machine with a hands-on tutorial, architects could walk through their vision for a restored building, and police officers could get a different perspective on a crime scene. Meanwhile, gamers could play on battlefields that appear right around them rather than on screen.
But like any invention, AR might take a while to get used to. Pokémon Go already upset some people who didn’t want the animated monsters popping up in homes, museums or cemeteries.
Expect such issues to crop up again as we work out the rules for what we do and don’t accept in the AR world. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for things that don’t quite belong.