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Augmented reality isn't a new technology, but its growing emergence has given developers and retailers an innovative manner to approach customers.
Startup companies such as Blippar, Daqri, Layar, Sayduck, and Waygo are developing niche augmented reality apps and services - and bigger companies are dumping more research funds into seeing how to integrate AR into customer offerings.
Moving forward, the regular augmented reality market is expected to grow 30 percent year-over-year during the next four years - and the mobile augmented reality will top $1 billion annually by 2015 - as consumers, developers, and companies willing to try using augmented reality.
If nothing else, augmented reality should see critical growth among businesses trying to help employees become more efficient. Smartphones, tablets, and head-mounted displays are opening the door to augmented reality, though software and app development aren't immersive enough to get most business decision makers to pull the trigger.
However, as head-mounted displays become more familiar - along with increased smartphone and tablet saturation - companies are able to test augmented reality apps. For example, decision makers hope employees in the field, at the office, or on production floors can use augmented reality to enhance work flows and day-to-day operations.
The mobile augmented reality industry is expected to top $1 billion annually by 2015, as more businesses embrace the emerging technology. Analysts have pegged the industry with an estimated growth of 30 percent per year over the next four years, though cost and functionality will also need to increase.
Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) hope to push the augmented reality and wearable electronics market to the next level with its K-Glass product. The device is a hand-mounted display and if the wearer walks up to a restaurant, the daily menu and 3D images of food are displayed.
Based on sound, video, graphics, and GPS, K-Glass users suddenly are thrust into an interactive and live virtual environment.
"HMDs will become the next mobile device, eventually taking over smartphones," said Hoi-Jun Yoo, KAIST Professor of Electrical Engineering, in a statement. "Their markets have been growing fast, and it's really a matter of time before mobile users will eventually embrace an optical see-through HMD as part of their daily use. Through augmented reality, we will have richer, deeper, and more powerful reality in all aspects of our life from education, business, and entertainment to art and culture."
There is a significant amount of interest in augmented reality, though consumers are still patiently waiting to see how the hardware and software apps continue to develop.
Annual revenues from mobile augmented reality technology will eclipse $1.2 billion by 2015, according to Juniper Research, as the market continues to evolve at a rapid pace.
The mobile AR market reached just $180 million in 2013, as consumers and businesses become more familiar with mobile applications and services available. Specifically, video games, which accounted for 40 percent of AR downloads last year will help drive the industry in 2014 and 2015, respectively, though entertainment, lifestyle, and enterprise AR also is slated to increase.
As more companies appreciate the importance of mobile technologies, brands such as Nestle, Heinz, Uniliver, and other major corporations want to use AR to engage customers.
Juniper Research warned that AR supporters need to help continue sharing benefits to consumers - especially with the industry already fragmenting from varying levels of product development.
The U.S. Army plans to utilize augmented reality technologies in its efforts to better prepare soldiers for training and missions. Companies with developed AR-related solutions that can be used by individual soldiers - or as a team - can respond to the Army Contracting Command's recent Sources Sought notice.
As military budget spending has spiraled out of control, there is growing interest in augmented reality and virtual reality-related projects that will help reduce spending. Newer technologies open the door for more sophisticated, realistic training programs that help leading up to the battlefield.
The U.S. military has embraced AR research and development prior to it becoming a more commonly spoken about practice in the consumer market. The Department of Defense (DoD) is working with Innovega on the iOptik augmented reality contact lenses with customized head-up display (HUD).
The United States market for augmented reality is expected to grow by 30 percent per year until 2018, as more users become familiar with AR products, according to TechSci Research. Moving forward, the video game industry will push AR forward and will usher in a new era of consumer AR product development.
Although relatively new to the consumer market, government defense contractors have the largest market share - and continue to push forward with the demand of new head-mounted displays (HMD) HUDs. In 2012, California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois dominated the market by pushing demand.
In United States HMDs and HUDs market, Delphi Automotive, Denso Corp., Johnson and Controls, BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins are currently the leading market players,"said Karan Chechi, TechSci Research's Director, in a statement. Google, Vuzix, Ad-Dispatch and Layar are the major players in AR smart glasses and apps market, however, with the growing shipments of smartphones and tablet PCs, other players such as Sony, Microsoft and Oakley are expected to make significant contributions over the next five years."
Indeed, as more companies continue to jump on the AR bandwagon, there should be a lot of fun and innovative technologies demoed in the future.
Telepresence company Digital Video Enterprises (DVE) has teamed up with Microsoft to demo the DVE Immersion Room, a new holographic presentation room. During the demo, Microsoft Windows is floating in the middle of the room and visitors are able to interact with the OS using video objects that are floating in mid-air.
The company also has its newest generation of telepresence technology in which Microsoft Lync coupled with DVE's program provides HD images of life-size people in the room. Telepresence is still in its infancy, but shows great potential for remote video conferences that provide users with a life-like meeting experience.
"We have predicted that software based conferencing will transform enterprise communication and now we are able to power the best telepresence experience in the world from a Windows PC, notebook, and even a Surface Pro tablet," said Jeff Machtig, DVE co-founder, in a statement.
DVE is now showing off the new technology in its showrooms, as businesses are showing interest in newer, innovative ways to communicate.
The fascination surrounding augmented reality will yield countless potential users in the consumer and enterprise markets, with AR adoption on the rise, businesses can use the budding technology to complement and enhance internal business processes, according to the Gartner research group.
Using AR to help identify potential workplace hazards, for example, could lead to a safer and more productive office or production facility. Location-based and computer aided vision is still developing, and it will take time for business to jump onboard, but there is great potential in the years to come.
"AR is most useful as a tool in industries where workers are either in the field, do not have immediate access to information, or jobs that require one or both hands and the operator's attention," said Tuong Huy Nguyen, Gartner principal research analyst, in a media statement. "As such, the impact on weightless industries is lower because these employees often have constant and direct access to the information they need (such as knowledge workers)."
The Oculus VR won the 2014 Best of CES prize after showing off its Rift prototype, a wearable electronics headset with AMOLED-based display and 1920x1080 resolution. CES is over and the industry looks ahead to a busy 2014, in which AR interest will continue to increase at a rapid pace - expect to see these technologies hit the market throughout the year.
Facial visualization company ModiFace now benefits from rising interest in 3D augmented reality, as the company develops its 3D Augmented Reality Makeup and Anti-Aging Mirror. The proprietary software uses either an internal or external web camera - or standalone kiosk - to allow women to virtually test cosmetic colors, and skincare product effects.
"Our new 3D Beauty Mirror is a marketing breakthrough for retailers and beauty brands, particularly for cosmetic counters," said KyungMoon Lee, ModiFace Director of Engineering, in a statement. "Shoppers who would otherwise walk by without stopping can be instantly drawn in and experiment with shades and effects virtually even if they don't have the time for a hands-on makeup session or if a salesperson is busy with another customer."
ModiFace already has a number of apps available to consumers, including digital makeover programs for a number of different cosmetics. The new 3D makeup and anti-aging beauty mirror can be used with touchscreen monitors or on tablets and mobile devices directly in the store - providing a unique way to interact with customers.
During the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Epson announced its second-generation Moverio BT-200 smart glasses that include a transparent display, head motion tracking, and Wi-Fi. The BT-200 also has a built-in camera, 960x540 resolution, microSDHC card slot, and Bluetooth 3.0 - and will be released this March with a $699 MSRP.
Epson released the Moverio BT-100 first-generation smart glasses in 2011, when the technology was still in relative infancy compared to today.
"The Epson Moverio BT-200 smart glasses offer consumers crystal clear video as well as access to incredible new augmented reality experiences and relevant information according to their personal interests and needs," said Atsunari Tsuda, Epson Visual Products Division GM, in a statement.
Smart glasses and augmented reality continue to increase in popularity, with CES 2014 expected to see a number of augmented reality announcements.