Disney is famed for its imagination, and way back in 1990s they were toying with the idea of augmented reality (AR). A year after the commercial success of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - the movie where Ghostbusters alumni Rick Moranis portrays a hapless inventor who quite literally reduces his children to a quarter of an inch in size - Walt Disney World Resort introduced Honey, I Shrunk the Audience; a 4D spin-off that used tactics including hidden water sprays and leg ticklers to immerse participants.
I have fond memories of the show – my very first AR experience - at Disneyland Paris. Sadly, it’s no longer there - having closed in 2010 - but the building that housed it remains, offering a welcome 90’s nostalgia hit every time I see it.
Fast forward to today, and Disney are seemingly considering new ways to bring augmented reality to live events, taking advantage of the huge technological advances of the intervening period.
In July 2019, the company published a new patent entitled “event enhancement using augmented reality effect”. Plans are expected to centre around improving their ESPN Wide World of Sports offering with superimposed pitch lines for American football and displaying player stats during the break, to name but a few - offering live attendees the same benefits that at-home viewers routinely enjoy.
But why stop there? With AR, the sky truly is the limit!
Imagine your child’s favourite Disney characters adorning the skies during live theme park firework displays. Who wouldn’t want to see Peter Pan and co. fly overhead or Buzz Lightyear blasting off to infinity and beyond? Perhaps Universal Studios will get in on the act too. One things for sure - I’d be first in line for an augmented reality Back to the Future experience. My kids would have to wait in line!
Augmented reality has already proven itself to be a game-changing tool for entertainment – offering enhanced, interactive experiences of real-world environments through computer-generated graphics. But its scope doesn’t end there, with other industries such as education, communications and medicine looking set to capitalise on advancements too.
There are a few examples already out there, most notably Google Glass – the “small, lightweight wearable computer with a transparent display for hands-free work.”
It promises to help the user stay focused, increase accuracy and collaborate in real-time. The technology is already in use several global brands including DHL, General Electric and Volkswagen. And whilst it may sound like a heightened productivity tool, Google Glass has come into its own in the medical industry.
In the field of interventional radiology – a medical speciality utilising minimally invasive image-guided diagnosis and treatment - doctors Phil Haslam and Sebastian Mafeld demonstrated the first application of Google Glass. Following a successful assist on a liver biopsy, the pair stated that Google Glass has the potential to improve patient safety, operator comfort, and procedural efficiency.
In 2013, Rafael J. Grossmann was the first surgeon to demonstrate the use of Google Glass during a live surgical procedure, followed in July 2014 by the launch of a remote training platform at Milan’s Surgery Academy - allowing medical students to join any operating theatre where the surgeon was wearing Google Glass.
That same month an app called MindRDR was released, connecting Google Glass to a smart device in order to monitor brain activity. It allows users to take photos and interact with Facebook and Twitter using only brain signals with no need for physical interaction or voice activations. Billed as “beginning a new generation of mind-controlled wearables”, the technology is said to allow users with severe physical disabilities to engage with social media.
As early as 2012, the U.S. military were reportedly working on a system to function with AR spectacles named iOptik to enable soldiers to focus on the near foreground and distant background simultaneously. In 2019, it was announced that the now-honed technology was forecast for commercial release in 2020, pending FDA market clearance.
EyeTap is another wearable device that not only records the user’s current reality, but superimposes computer-generated imagery. This kind of tech pops up in most superhero movies (and the 32nd instalment in the Fast & Furious franchise - Hobbs & Shaw!) whereby users can accurately assess the threat level of a given individual or scenario in front of them.
But who wants a clunky piece of eyewear when you could have a contact lens?
You may think wearing AR-enabled technology under your eyelids sounds all too futuristic and far-fetched to be available this side of the year 3000 - think again.
We’re not talking about contact lenses you can pick up in packs of 30 from Boots, of course, but just this year, Samsung filed a patent for a smart contact lens with a built-in camera. The finished design (connected to a smartphone) would allow users to control its interface with the mere blink of an eye, enabling them to enjoy augmented reality content discreetly. While it’s relatively early days from a development perspective - with no talk of commercial release yet - the science exists to make it possible.
The advances such technology could bring across industries is genuinely astounding. And for the day-to-day lives of ordinary folk like me and you? Yep, that’s pretty exciting too! Not sure you want to go ahead with that tattoo? A new hair colour? A new front door? AR contact lenses could offer a “try before you buy” experience for the digital age, and it surely won’t be long before AR devices – however big or small – become a part of our everyday lives.
I like to think they could offer you insights on which craft beer to choose at the bar, offer real-time flight updates at the airport, or perhaps even help singletons meet their match whilst walking the busy streets of London. The possibilities to save time, energy and money feel endless. That said, we’re likely only a few years away of advancing to a point where that same technology could go completely undetected. Hobbs, AKA Dwayne Johnson, could be assessing your “threat level” at any given moment, and how would you even know? Let’s be honest though, if you were hanging out with The Rock, would you even care?!