It’s understandable to feel underwhelmed by augmented reality thus far; AR won’t really become interesting and practical in a mass market way until it can do more than just place 3D objects on tables. Despite this, AR is already changing our urban lives, even if the technology’s effects aren’t being felt at a mass scale yet. I’ve interviewed three AR entrepreneurs who explain three key ways that AR is set to transform urban living.

The real world will be indexed

Google has undoubtedly changed billions of lives. By indexing the web, Google has enabled us to find virtually anything we need with the click of a button. However, as the internet evolves from 2D computer screens into a 3D internet that overlays the real world, an entirely new paradigm for navigating, identifying, and organizing data will be required. That is, trying to get information about the objects, places, and people in the space immediately around you is a complex process that is dramatically different from typing a search into Google on Firefox. However, once solved, this “indexing of the real world” will make our urban lives richer and easier to navigate.

Amir Adamov is the CEO of Fringefy, a connected-car focused platform that allows users to conduct visual searches for places in the real world. He expands on this point: “Humans naturally use vision to identify, process, and express information about the physical world. Similarly, smartphones can enhance our ability to use visual recognition to index unique points of interest in the urban environment. Although GPS allows us to identify where we are in a city, it does not enable us to actually augment visual information into our world.”

Adamov continues: “For example, if a tourist is in a park in Barcelona, she can pull out Google Maps and get a sense of what restaurants and bars are in the area. This isn’t a very engaging experience and provides limited utility to the user. However, augmenting this experience with sensors on AR-capable smartphones is a tipping point. This would enable the tourist’s phone to actually see what’s around her and provide her with real-time context. AR platforms will allow users to optimize their consumption of digital content in their urban environment in a way that is more engaging and personal.”

Commuting will be smarter and safer

Despite the advances made in the automotive industry since its inception, traffic accidents remain a significant cause of injury and death worldwide. However, with the advent of AR-enabled smart devices, commuting will become increasingly safe and efficient. The rise of networked intelligent vehicles communicating with each other in real time, coupled with commuters wearing AR-enabled wearables, will result in dramatically improved urban transport systems.

Alfred Boyagdis is the CEO of Forcite, a company that builds smart helmet technology. He elaborates on this point: “The transport sector is already adopting AR technology to great effect. Companies like BMW and Daimler are making dramatic progress in HUD technologies that enable drivers to gain more situational awareness on roads. This could help in detecting potholes and general navigation and speed management.”

Boyagdis continues: “There is a long road ahead to making AR optics safe and not distracting in high-velocity situations. Popular media has most people expecting an “iron man” type experience, although the state of the tech today is more along the lines of Google Glass’ HMD. It’s crucial for the industry to focus on making simple and effective solutions that work well within the current constraints of the hardware. In doing so, we can ensure that AR evolves into a platform that helps, instead of hinders, public safety in transport.”

Language will be less of a barrier

Being completely immersed in a foreign city and culture can be intoxicating for tourists. However, for the business traveler on a project abroad, language barriers can be a major hindrance in navigating basic situations like ordering food or asking for directions. This problem is exacerbated in situations that require interpretation with a deeper level of cultural nuance, much to Google’s chagrin.

Ryan Rogowski is the CEO of Waygo, an app that enables smartphone cameras to instantly translate Chinese, Japanese, and Korean script. Rogowski elaborates on how AR can help with language barriers: “AR has already made significant progress in helping international travelers navigate a new city. The combination of computer vision and machine learning solutions has enabled us to travel the world without worrying about language barriers for written script. This is particularly helpful with complex languages that use different alphabets from those that we’re used to, such as in Asia.”

AR as an interface for AI

Despite AR’s advances in translating text in a literal word-for-word manner, it’ll be a long time before it’s possible to accurately interpret real-time conversations. This is because humans usually do not speak in literal terms. Moreover, most of our communication is displayed through our body language, intonation, gestures and facial expressions – all of which are difficult for artificial intelligence (AI), in its current state, to interpret accurately and in real time.

Thus, the long term utility of AR will depend heavily upon advances in AI and how well the two technologies can combine in providing better context to the world. In the next phase of technology’s evolution, AI will increasingly be “the brain” with which we process the world around us, while AR will be “the eyes” through which we visually and physically engage the augmented reality of our urban environment.

Michael Park is the CEO and founder of PostAR, a platform that lets you build, explore, and share augmented realities.

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