Limits to Current AR Tech

August 12, 2016

Current AR Tech

We all know Augmented Reality of today won’t hold a candle to Augmented Reality of tomorrow. The issue is not a lack of attention or creativity; current AR still is interesting, informative, and useful. In truth, technological limits have forced AR to constrain to certain boundaries: it can only be seen by a particular individual, or in a particular position, or at a particular angle. In other words, today’s AR “dies on the spot” and doesn’t have any function outside of its narrow, specific parameters.

Presently, there are two main methods a mobile device uses to place AR content: GPS, and image markers. GPS, while being a useful tool to determine one’s general position, has drawbacks when applied to AR. First, GPS requires communication with satellites to function, so places that are underground, in large buildings, or thick with trees become unusable. Additionally, GPS has limits to its accuracy, usually able to determine a device’s position to within 10 feet. While 10 feet is not much of a difference on a regional scale (using GPS to determine your car’s position on a regional map, for instance), a 10-foot uncertainty on a personal scale is vast, too large for AR content to be placed with the precision it needs to thrive.

Marker technology, on the other hand, tethers AR content to a unique fiduciary image (such as a QR code), and brings its own advantages and limitations. The upside is that markers allow for very specific content to be displayed in conjunction to the real world with high accuracy. Because the markers are pre-configured ahead of time, they allow the device to make precise measurements regarding the marker’s (and therefore the AR content linked to it) position and orientation relative to the device.

The drawbacks to markers arise from their physical limitations – they have to physically be present and wholly undamaged in order to work, meaning they are limited in how they allow AR to interact in the real world.

Markers also require they be viewed from a particular angle, or in a particular way, in order to function. Unsurprisingly, AR tethered to markers requires users to actually, physically view the marker with their device. This makes for exceptionally narrow AR experiences, where the user must be in the appropriate light levels, distance, viewing angle or other condition in order for the marker to function. Furthermore, viewership of AR is limited to only those who have the ability to view the marker,at any given time, meaning small audiences , and reduced interest in AR overall.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to marker-based AR is that it flies in the face of AR’s original purpose: creating value by placing digital objects in context with the surrounding world. Reducing the “surrounding world” to a single, pre-determined image restricts the potential for what AR can accomplish.

Next time, we want to share some of our ideas about how to get over these hurdles, and making AR accessible anywhere, beyond just one spot.