6 ways to invest in augmented reality

AR landscape from Super Ventures. You can download a high-resolution version of the landscape here.

Augmented reality is generating a lot of excitement, particularly with rumors that Apple will enter the market sometime soon, alongside others such as Microsoft and Google.

Digi-Capital, a tech advisor, believes that the combined market for AR and virtual reality could be $108 billion by 2021. 2016 was a critical year for AR, with new device announcements, major acquisitions and massive adoption by consumers and enterprises alike.

Super Ventures has sorted out the landscape of AR startups, and it has come up with six areas of opportunity for both AR hardware and software, where investment dollars could make a big impact. You can download a high-resolution version of the AR landscape here.

The AR ecosystem is complex with multiple device categories, inputs and outputs and interaction tools, content creation and platform solutions and applications to wade through. Tom Emrich, founding partner at Super Ventures, said his firm has met with and benchmarked over 600 AR companies in the past year. Here’s Super Ventures’ views on the investment opportunities in AR.

Bionic Vision

In order for AR to hit the masses it requires the necessary hardware to be in the hands or on the faces of users, Emrich said. Although AR akin to Pokémon Go is possible with today’s smartphone, AR and mixed reality (blending the real world with computer-generated animations) requires specific hardware solutions.

“The holy grail of AR is to enable graphical information to be indistinguishable from natural vision,” he said. “To achieve this, advancements in lightfield, retina projection, photorealistic rendering, adjustable focus and natural vergence and accommodation are needed.”

But bionic vision has challenges beyond the display that need to be tackled. Battery life, connectivity, multi sensor-fusion, haptics and audio are other hardware accelerators and component areas of opportunity to consider.

Daqri is creating augmented reality headsets and helmets.

Above: Daqri is creating augmented reality headsets and helmets.

Image Credit: Daqri

Natural Input/Output (I/O) and Interaction

AR is more than just augmenting our sight.

“We perceive this reality with all of our senses from sound to touch and even our emotional reactions,” Emrich said. “In order for this new wave to be truly immersive, it is critical for digital solutions to bring these aspects of the human experience into the mix in order to interact with virtual content as if it was the real world.”

New inputs such as eye-tracking, gesture recognition and voice move beyond the mouse-click, touch and tap needed to provide a more natural means to interact with the augmented world. While haptics, augmented audio, and emotion tech solutions are required to let the virtual feel immersive.

3D-ifying the real world

The real shift behind this next wave of computing is the move from 2D to 3D computing. This requires solutions that can scan and capture, track, and recognize the 3D world.

Scanning and tracking of places, objects and peoples is challenging especially on a large scale, Emrich said. And the race is on to map the world and creating point clouds which developers can use to track the user’s position and overly the surroundings with AR content. Equipping computers with the ability to not just see but make sense of the real world around them is a critical component to AR which presents both wide and niche opportunities.

World Building

With the computers able to track and recognize the real world around us, developers and designers will have the foundation they need to start to personalize, shape and augment it with a virtual layer, essentially creating a metaverse, Emrich said.

And this will require a new set of tools that allow quick capture and modification of content from the real world, and well as intuitive creation of new content. Content creation and authoring tools, tools to measure and optimize the user experience and solutions that manage the versioning, quality assurance, optimization and workflow between team members of 3D content are just a few of the opportunities to equip AR content creators.

Telepresence

Each wave of computing follows a similar pattern from the last, so if we are to take cue from the web and mobile era, we can expect that one of the killer apps for AR will be communication and collaboration, Emrich said.

Immersive communication, large scale social experiences and communicating with remote people as if they are in the same room are just some of the opportunities we expect AR to usher in. AR is uniquely positioned to offer true telepresence along with empathy where distance no longer becomes a barrier to be in the same room with someone to have a friendly chat, collaborate on an important project or even troubleshoot a critical issue on site.

Super Intelligence

Technology has always been able to augment our capabilities.

“AR will take this to the extreme,” Emrich said. “With transparent computing power in our field of view, employees in training can be turned into professionals on their first day. And the entire knowledge of the world wide web can be ours without having to log on and stare down at a screen.”

The enterprise is ripe for disruption with AR and the ROI to make workflows more efficient, safe and workers more productive is extremely clear – especially now that devices have reached an affordable price point. Solutions that enable knowledge sharing, utility to a specific vertical such as construction, oil, mining, and retail, and even workplace productivity tools are great opportunities for investment today.

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