AR/VR often get lumped into the same acronym at trade shows, conferences and the ubiquitous presentations on emerging technology trends that are peddled throughout them. We often see examples of AR experiences that might as well be VR, and pass through VR experiences that would be far more practical with true AR headsets. This is likely due to the fact that relatively low cost VR headsets have now become mainstream, and developers and end users have more experience and familiarity with these devices. The temptation is to attempt to use one technology as a substitute for another, though this often produces poor experiences. This is because the two technologies lie along opposite ends of Milgram’s real-virtuality continuum and the true high value use cases for Augmented Reality (AR) will always extend (or augment) an activity that is taking place in the real, physical environment. Here are a few of the key advantages to creating AR native experiences.
1. Use AR if you want to talk about a design while you experience it
Wearing the HoloLens does not prevent the user from communicating with others in their immediate physical space in the same way that entering a VR experience does. You can still maintain eye contact, use body language and confidently walk around, sit down and interact with other objects in the room. This makes the barrier to engaging with the experience lower as there is a low social cost (embarrassment factor) to experimenting (and maybe making some mistakes) with something new in front of an audience.
2. Use AR if you want to engage everyone, anywhere
Because most smart phones now support mobile AR frameworks like ARKit and ARCore, they are by far the most accessible platform for mixed reality experiences. As a result AR experiences on mobile phones feel simultaneously new and familiar, and are available to most audiences regardless of age, profession and digital expertise. A further advantage is that these devices tend to be ever-present in peoples pockets and can be taken to site, meaning that AR is an excellent platform for reviewing projects with builders, tradespeople, students or clients on site or in the office.
3. AR is about learning through doing
Hands-free heads up displays create fantastic opportunities to build shared learning experiences in AR and accelerate training of complex tasks. Instructors and students can occupy the same experience in order to learn by doing, point to digital objects that appear in the same place for all participants in the experience and even record the first person view of the experience to create tutorials and learning resources. Check out this video of Colin Barratt teaching his apprentice how to build this complex feature wall using the HoloLens to see what we mean - the clip is about half way through.
4. AR experiences can be photo real
There is a common misconception that creating AR experiences requires a high end PC and experience with real time game engines or photo-real rendering. The best AR experiences avoid this trap and instead rely on the physical environment as much as possible. Great AR experiences extend physical spaces and objects: think overlaying facade options on a physical massing model, evaluating subtle variations to form or scale of a piece of furniture in a room, or showing massing models at 1:1 in the context of a real physical street. In all cases, the lighting and materiality of the virtual design is not as important as the context of the design.
5. AR is the best tool we have for describing things before they are built
Our tools for describing 3D objects (like buildings, furniture, cities, art pieces etc) are surprisingly limited: we can work from rough maquettes, 2D drawings or 3D models rendered to a flat display. All of these mediums require skill and expertise to “fill in the gaps” of missing information and as a result can lead to misinterpretations, mistakes, requests for information, inaccuracies in representation of existing conditions and a whole host of other problems. AR provides a constant, contextualized, unambiguous representation of a finished design, and as a result one of the best use cases for AR is what we call an “in and out” experience enabling designers, builders, artists and makers to check their work while it is being built.
6. AR is the swiss army knife for digital construction
One of the best use cases for AR is as a replacement for 2D drawings on construction sites and in factory environments. Because AR devices like mobile phones and the HoloLens are able to accurately position digital models within physical space, these digital models can be used to simplify set out anything located in 3D space: the positions of individual bricks to create complex curving forms and effects, precisely locate concrete reinforcement and formwork, perform clash detection for mechanical services, and more. We’ve found that holographic models can also be used as guides when working with analogue tools to more effectively work with presses, benders, drills and other power tools. The opportunity here for inventing new processes of making and enable bespoke design on mass are exciting and endless.