AR for Grownups

Sweet glasses dude. -  Said Nobody Ever

Sweet glasses dude. - Said Nobody Ever

Wearing Augmented Reality glasses may not make you look like the coolest person, but, if futurists are right, they will allow you to see the coolest stuff. To understand AR we must understand what it is, where it has been, and where it may go. And that picture will be the only mention of Magic Leap.

AR Defined. Normally AR is defined alongside VR (virtual reality) and MR (mixed reality), but we find it helpful to think of all three as 3D content viewed across different mediums. Merriam-Webster is quite helpful as well: "an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera)"

The History. Using this simple definition, we can see AR's rich history. Computer scientists began playing with graphical interface projections in the 1960s. One of the first concrete examples was built in Wisconsin, of all places, by Myron Krueger. Krueger's Videoplace was an interactive art piece that allowed people to communicate in a graphical two-way exhibit one mile away from each other.

The term augmented reality was coined by Boeing researcher Tom Caudell. The aerospace industry was an early adopter and Caudell was tasked with coming up with a cheaper and faster way to create diagrams for workers on the factory floor. NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD) used AR solutions to overlay controls on maps in the 1990s, and then, in 1999, Hirokazu Kato created the first open-source software, ARToolKit. Since 2000, AR has been pushed into the mainstream due to this open-source software and the advent of hardware that delivers content with greater fidelity. 

Sport has been an early adopter of AR technology. The NHL and NFL were pioneers. Fox Sports and the NHL unveiled FoxTrax at the 1996 NHL All Star Game. The AR system created a blue glow around the puck when passed between players and then colored trails on shots to the goal. 

The NFL adopted the yellow 1st & 10 line the following year, in 1997. The engineers who created FoxTrax left Fox Sports to set up the company Sportsvision - the first dedicated sport AR company. In addition to the yellow line that is now ubiquitous on all NFL broadcasts, the company experimented with interfaces to replace play by play commentary. 

Today, now that one of our mobile devices has more computing power than all of the Apollo 11 mission computers combined, we are finally capable of processing the graphics that AR needs to look pleasing. This power, coupled with a move towards body computing and the proliferation of well trained creators has primed the world for an AR explosion. But we desperately need that explosion to be designed for grownups.

The Trend. Most of the current AR experiences in sport and entertainment are built to deliver gamessimple experiences, or advertisement platforms. Much of the focus at this stage has been on creating new inventory to sell sponsorships. The problem with this approach is that it's too reductive and it misses the purpose of AR completely - to create an "enhanced version of reality." It is one thing to create an AR advertising platform like Supponor, but it's another to create a great game and then jam advertising into it.

The second trend we see is leveraging sport as a way to learn and drive larger markets. Companies like Xperiel, which created a graphical programming language for AR, are using sport as a test bed for learning how humans engage with AR. These lessons can unlock opportunities in other industries. We believe that AR coaching tools and use cases abound but that few have tackled these because the barrier to experiment is daunting. This is why we applaud early efforts such as the tennis tool, Tennis Activity Tracker. We'd love to see large education or consulting companies partner with sports clubs to underwrite some of this performance experimentation.

What to Do. We believe that teams should look at AR for three distinct uses right now.

First, AR should create data interactions that are more practical than dashboards on a screen. Creating data interfaces that we can walk around or move is possible right now with a few simple technologies. This mindset and use case will help bridge the data utility gap many in sport still feel. It will also get us closer to Minority Report.

Second, AR should deliver an advertising free (for now) experience to fans when they are anywhere. We tend to lump AR into stadium marketing due to cost. While companies like Mira Labs and Aireal are creating cheaper delivery systems, rich content is still very expensive to produce. Teams needs advertising to underwrite production costs. Xperiel's graphical programming language may change this dynamic, but until then, we need more studios and creators developing cost effective content that is delivered without ads. We need to get users to adopt before we plaster them with advertisements.

Lastly, we really do believe in the performance applications. Think of a person scouting basketball players in Argentina who takes hands free notes and pulls statistics or video up on players without having to look away from the court. Or better yet, teams training scout players against AR versions of opponents. This is possible today but requires augmented reality interfaces for grownups. Let's get started.

Steve Gera