As Virtual Reality continues to gain traction through high profile investment in the gaming world, what is happening with Augmented Reality in product design, and could it realistically become an everyday part of the designers tool kit?
What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world via a camera and screen or projecting directly onto a lens thus providing a composite view.
AR has already made successful appearances into the mainstream through the likes of Pokemon Go, Lego and Ikea and as with VR, this investment demonstrates the potential of the technology. Microsoft continue to invest in their HoloLens product and are now specifically targeting business environments rather than consumer level which would lead us to believe that design specific tools could soon be available.
The benefits are clear. Virtual objects and information placed within a real world environment. Some say this combination offers a better experience than VR which removes the user from their immediate environment. From a Product Design perspective, this level of interaction and feedback before a piece of metal is cut or a prototype is built should be hugely beneficial. How does the designed object scale in reality? Does the design suit the surrounding environment? Does the design work on an Ergonomic and Anthropometric level? Being able to place a virtual object within the environment you are designing for should allow a designer to at least consider these questions earlier in the process and make informed decisions prior to committing to further expense.
How could AR be used in Product Design?
The importance of collaboration in design has grown as the digital age evolves. 3D CAD has been a big part of this and will remain a vital tool for years to come. However, viewing this data on screen is for the time being at least 2D. AR should provide us with the opportunity for a more immersive collaboration both internally amongst our peers and externally with clients and potential markets. A piece of machinery for example where you could remotely review with a client at 1:1 scale or a consumer product you could present at a group meeting around the table.
The e-drawings app for smartphone and tablet currently allows for a user to place a 3D CAD model into the real world. The effect is interesting, but not very realistic as the model isn’t photo realistic. A good start, but needs improvement.
Alongside the benefits of review and collaboration, AR may well also become part of the creative process. Imagine being immersed within your product as it being built using 3D CAD. Instant feedback to the designer on scale and form.
Time will tell in the coming years as to whether AR breaks through as a mainstream tool in Product Design. With technology advancing by the minute and companies on the lookout for new ways to stand out from their competitors, we anticipate it becoming more and more active.