Augmented reality is more than just holograms

The AR in Action conference redefines AR to include many diverse technologies.

By Steven Max Patterson
Jan. 23, 2017

Pattie Maes, head of the MIT Media Labs Fluid Interface group, wrapped AR in a multidisciplinary explanation of the evolution of AR design and development of assistive technology user interfaces and interactions that integrate with a user’s mind, body and behavior. 

The talk about the evolution from human to cyborg made a striking point about disabilities becoming augmented abilities with the example of double leg amputee Hugh Herr, an MIT professor of biometrics who has created breakthrough bionic limbs that enhance human mobility—like the blades Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius wears. The line between disability begins with augmentation, which at this point in time may only partially remedy disability but—like Pistorius’ legs—could in the future exceed normal human capabilities to interact with the surrounding space. We could have bionic eyes that exceed human vision and augmented cognition with which everything is remembered and everything in the environment is contextually understood.

Metasensory augmentation

Perhaps the term metasensory augmentation—from the father of wearables dating to the 1980s, Steve Mann—might replace the term AR. Mann talked about emitted energy transduced into visual applications and the brain-computer interface. Mann also added emphasis to the history of wearables.

Other speakers gave balance to the conference’s enthusiasm, including Monique Morrow, co-chair of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethical Considerations for Mixed Reality Committee. She describes herself as the elephant in the room who is both excited about the possibilities of AR and wary of the potential for abuse. She is concerned with ethical considerations in an AR world driven by intelligent systems observing behaviors and sensing physical phenomena continuously to provide individuals with appropriate content. Could inequities arise if monopolies such as Facebook and Google emerge that monetize this data? What are the ethical surveillance considerations? 

Enriquez and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe also said a killer AR app has not emerged, unless the definition is stretched to include Pokémon Go. And Croteau explained that systems designers do not yet have all the tools and components to build light, unobtrusive and highly functional AR wearables with good battery life that he equated to the early smartphones. But AR applications are being developed to solve a broad range of problems in fields such as emergency response, architecture and the Internet of Things.

Metcalfe applied his many years of experience as an inventor, entrepreneur and advisor/inventor in summing up the conference:

“AR technology is on the verge of happening. The timing of the conference fits with the stage of the development of AR because at times like this, people get together to give the industry a vector for direction, at least for a while.”  

Fifty videos will be posted to the conference website soon. Readers interested in learning more should check the conference website:

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