August 18, 2022 - 10 min read
Soon enough, the metaverse will come to life before our eyes, breaking the internet free from the square devices in our pockets or worn on our wrists. Just as Cryptopunks, Bored Apes, and NBA Top Shot ignited the market for digital collectibles and NFT-based memberships, many in the music and fashion industry have also dipped their toes into Web3 with metaverse initiatives and NFT drops. Well-known brands like Lamborghini, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Burberry, Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and even the US Space Force have already gotten in on the fun with their own NFT launches.
People seek escapism from the limitations of the physical world, and augmented reality agrees with this tendency. In fact, it may soon seem obvious that staking a claim in the emerging Web3 space is a marketing imperative. This phenomena could play out across a variety of sectors like healthcare, insurance and finance. At the time of publication, AR has already shown up in the art, fashion, and entertainment worlds, and has even been incorporated into digital assets and the metaverse, as will be subsequently discussed.
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the newer trends in technological development, and it’s only set to gain momentum as AR-ready smartphones and wearable devices become more commonplace in households around the world. AR permits us to see more than our typical perceptions of the environment in front of us.
Imagine putting on glasses and looking out through a window overlooking a city park to see trees swaying in the breeze, a dog chasing a squirrel up a tree, and some students gathered around a picnic table with notebooks strewn about, but with digital images overlapping it. Wearable AR devices, or even a smartphone’s camera lens, allows users to engage with a world which is geographically real, but invisible to the naked eye.
AR devices overlay images on top of one’s visual field, thus augmenting your perception of reality. In other words, AR allows users to experience interactive digital imagery in addition to the real world around them. The metaverse essentially springs forth from our devices and into our perceptions of reality. The beauty of this is that AR devices can facilitate embedded sensory experiences without meaningfully removing users from their real-world experiences, and therefore enhancing the experience of reality.
AR is in sharp contrast to virtual reality (VR), in which users experience a completely digital world through wearable goggles that seal them off from their physical surroundings. Wearing VR devices usually renders wearers incapable of interacting with the world around them. Also useful to note is the term extended reality (XR), which is a commonly used umbrella term for all sorts of augmented, virtual, or mixed reality.
Though it has been used for industrial, military, and other occupational settings, AR arguably came into mainstream popularity in 2016 with the release of Pokémon Go. The mobile app was a smashing success, introducing users to AR-based gaming along with a cast of nostalgic, yet beloved characters. If not already unfamiliar with the game, Pokémon Go players interacted with the game’s characters superimposed onto the real world via looking through their smartphone’s camera lens. Using a combination of their phones’ GPS data, camera, and artificial intelligence to generate location-specific characters for players to “catch” and collect.
Aside from gaming, there are some other really inspiring use cases for AR out there. Applications have been found in sports, the operation of motor vehicles, and simulated design and schematics projections. Wherever the combination of virtual and physical worlds may gracefully mingle, AR can be applied to enhance the experience of immersion and awe. Web3 adds a financial layer to be integrated into the user experience, which will be covered in a subsequent section.
As mentioned, AR was used by sports broadcasters at Fox as far back as 2016 to make holographics appear to viewers in moving 3D as a game’s aerial cameras panned in various directions. Perhaps even cooler, detailed heads-up-displays (HUDs) can be projected into a user’s vision on a car’s rear view mirror, or corner of the windshield to give drivers more information on the roads. Audi has already offered an optional AR HUD in their 2021 Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron.
Furthermore, Panasonic Automotive recently announced an advanced HUD with eye-tracking technology which is claimed to enhance the fidelity of the projected images based on where the driver is looking at any moment. Of course there are safety concerns to heed, as introducing too many distractions or impeding a driver’s vision could create more problems than solutions.
Global furniture retailer IKEA and Warby Parker eyeglasses offer AR applications which give users the chance to try out a number of different designs before making purchases, increasing the odds of favorable outcomes via augmented reality. IKEA’s app currently allows users to capture images of their room, delete furniture, and then superimpose their desired purchases into their rooms to check for suitability. IKEA’s Virtual Home Experience allows users to design their own kitchens in a dedicated metaverse environment, giving the customization experience an even more refined vibe.
The use of AR for increasing productivity has been a part of the conversation in vocational spheres for at least a decade. It should come as no surprise that AR has attracted the attention of military and medical experts as it can enhance soldiers’ situational awareness during their operations, or train medical students to perform surgeries remotely.
In fact, much of the investment into these technologies comes from defense contracts, evidenced by Microsoft being awarded a contract for $21.88 billion dollars over 10 years, and delivering 120,000 custom HoloLens AR headsets for the US Army. Fighter pilots also use the same HUD projection of their altitude, speed, and other relevant data using AR similar to its use in automobiles as was previously covered.
Furthermore, the Defense Health Agency funded a four-month study in 2021 at the University of Miami in remote AR medical training. The study involved surgeons teaching military medics to put in thoracostomy tubes in manikin chests, with the human anatomy superimposed into their fields of vision using AR.
Neurosurgeons can also operate more confidently using AR while performing delicate procedures to serve as virtual maps of the brain and surrounding tissue. SATS, the chief ground-handling and in-flight catering service provider at Singapore’s Changi Airport, began using AR smart glasses in mid-2017, and further expanded the use of AR to more than 500 staff to more efficiently scan barcodes and process cargo through the airport.
It’s getting more difficult to discuss blockchain recently without mention of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs make it possible for users to mint and trade unique digital assets on blockchains; with proof-of-ownership recorded, and double-spending prevented by the network’s nodes and public ledger.
NFT community members began wearing smart watches with their most prominent NFTs as their screensavers. Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunk HODLers can show off their collections via smart watches and LED backpacks, and may soon be able to project them into others’ field of vision via AR in due time. In the case of smart watches, showing off an expensive NFT like a BAYC or CryptoPunk could arguably stand up to a Rolex or Patek Philippe for those seeking the most expensive wristwear.
Taking the title of super-acronym, AR NFTs have also become a popular way of manifesting digital art. AR NFTs are used by projects to make the experience of viewing or displaying NFTs more textured and interactive. For example, an exclusive night club patron could pull out a Web3 wallet device to prove their VIP status by showing a QR code to security. Anyone in the vicinity with wearable AR devices would be able to see the NFT appear and move around according to its design.
To note an early example, Verse: The Art of the Future is an exhibition featuring AR holograms and NFT artwork. The exhibit is currently ongoing in San Francisco at the time of publication and is set to make an appearance in Denver next. Visitors wear the aforementioned Microsoft HoloLens headset, visualize the metaverse manifested as a gallery, and see the artwork come to life via AR. Ticket prices start at a modest $12.99 at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Enterprise and luxury brands are already displaying a keen awareness of the cultural shift towards virtual dimensions, AR, and whatever other mixed reality innovations are on their way. The question is not whether XR and the metaverse will make waves in the coming months, but more about the size of the tsunami swelling out of sight for the time being. Will it be VR or AR wearables that create the next wave of excitement in NFT use cases? Only time will tell.
One of the key components for success will be to provide real value and utility to AR and incorporate it in practical ways. In fact, those who pursue AR when it’s appropriate for their business model will find that the market is eager to identify itself with pioneers in the extended reality space, be it utilizing smart contracts or not. On the other hand, trying to shoehorn AR into product offerings or business models where it does not belong will only serve to sour opinions on the tech and associate it with useless gimmicks.
It should be clear at this point that military, medical, and technical experts are researching the use of AR and other extended reality technologies to more efficiently accomplish their goals or educate trainees. While a significant amount of time and energy is thus being placed on these sorts of use cases, the Web3 crowd should be taking notes and looking for opportunities wherever they present themselves. Therefore, brands that offer design-based products or services should be looking into AR strategies to jump ahead of the pack in offering their customers the latest tech in immersive customizability.
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