Augmented Reality is for Seeing Better

A product designer friend recently asked me, "What is the fundamental capability that augmented reality provides?"

The fundamental capability that current eye glasses provide is to see better. They help near sighted people see far away things. They help older eyes see things that are close. Ground troops sometimes wear a different kind glasses, night vision goggles, that help them see better in the dark. Fighter jet pilots wear augmented helmets because they help them see better information about their aircraft and their combat situation.

I've been playing with a Hololens at home, testing its capabilities and figuring out all of the decisions that Microsoft designers made on top of the technology. I've now placed a few dozen virtual pieces of decoration and information (they call them holograms sigh) in the nooks and crannies of the main floor of my home. It's really fun to place them and think about how they interact. It was fun to see my partner and kid discover each one. When I'm not wearing the glasses, I wonder what's happening with the virtual stuff. I see the house different, now.

Is it "seeing better" enough to wear a clunky Hololens most of the time? No way. If it was not clunky? Totally.

I've re-purposed my social media streams, muting or unsubscribing from people who post anything except art and the occasional interesting or funny idea. It's lovely to show up on Twitter and Instagram to see another batch of art. I'm looking forward to following someone on Twitter and choosing to add their geo-pinned posts to a layer that I see when wearing AR glasses. I can only barely imagine what it will be like to see the accumulated art of my entire stream of artists laid across a city.

So, that's decoration and art. With a little daydreaming, I'm sure that you can think of ways to see better with other types of information. Architecture, safety, infrared, food reviews, dramatic reenactments... They just keep coming.

What the big tech companies are shipping as augmented reality is just a sign that they're dipping their toes into the water. The tech isn't ready. The designs certainly aren't ready. But, they're important first steps into mass market AR and they'll get us ready for when we're smart enough to ship glasses that aren't clunky. For when we're smart enough to see better.

More posts

Recent posts

  • Wider Web War Room

    I was listening to a business plan for a wider web social space and it occurred to me that I'd heard a lot of these ideas before. Actually, I'd had a lot of these ideas.

    I went digging through my archives and I ...

  • Naming the Wider Web

    I will admit it, I like naming things.

    Projects, ideas, and pets; I love looking into their essential nature and pulling out a word or phrase that becomes their verbal and written flagship. I love it when other people engage in word-play with me until ...

  • Designing the Wider Web

    In the olden times, I made static web pages. They sat quietly on tubular displays that squatted like toads on the desk of every office worker. Early humans grunted at these pages with mice and keyboards. That was it.

    To write the simplest of web ...

  • Neighborhood XR

    Scenario: What is this bug?

    Stephen sits at the bus stop and sees a little bug with too many legs. He wonders what it is, so he pulls out his handset and browses over to the Tree of Life site, then clicks on the link ...

  • Link (Story 4 of 4)

    Hitchcock was awake. Starlight filtered through the forest canopy and dappled the walls of the cabin he shared with Lester. A trio of Clytemnestra’s beetle bots was resting in Lester's sleep-crumpled dreads, occasionally flicking their wings in response to dreams. Sometimes he forgot ...

  • Sphere (Story 3 of 4)

    Clytemnestra was in fragments. Her programs were spread across her stolen space ship, the station she just stole it from, and the small bots that she used to steal it. As each program relayed its experiences to the other, an avalanche of memory effects like ...

  • Ship (Story 2 of 4)

    Lester was obsessed. It had been a year since the massive beam of light printed the white sphere that invited humanity to a distant star, and he still spent most of his time inspecting the sensor logs in his office. Pictures of the beam and ...

  • Beam (Story 1 of 4)

    Elizabeth Stinton was frustrated. Her simulations for turbulence in her theoretical air sinter were a mess and if she didn't have something to show at the next board meeting she was pretty certain that they'd sell her startup for parts.

    Standing up from ...

  • One Hour Fiction: The Panelist

    The pounding in my head is in sync with the ticking of the escalator steps as they rise from the netherworld of the convention center's floor. I pull a smile from memory and ignore the sweat in my eyebrows. So many happy attendees, clipping ...

  • Agreements: Fuel for the Engine of Business

    Note: This is an old post. I no longer offer this service.

    The first person I watched run a company was Bly, the owner of a computer sales and service shop in Athens, Georgia. She gave me, a painfully young and skinny townie kid, a ...