(Image: Cara Smith, Huddle)
But for anyone who has seen augmented reality in action, science fiction has become the real future of tech. Hailed as the biggest step forward since PCs, augmented reality, in the form of tech like Microsoft’s HoloLens, is coming forward to take a place in every aspect of our day-to-day lives. And it’s happening faster than it might seem.
Duncan McSporran and Ryan Groom are the co-founders of Kognitiv Spark, a New Brunswick-based company developing augmented reality applications for Microsoft’s HoloLens. Combining their extensive experience in training and software development, McSporran and Groom are catching the first augmented reality wave rather than waiting around to see what happens with the new technology.
McSporran emphasizes the distinction between augmented reality and virtual reality, explaining that augmented reality melds digital objects with objects and locations in the real world, allowing for practical applications.
“There’s a massive difference between virtual reality and augmented reality, though some of the applications may overlap,” McSporran says. “Virtual reality and augmented reality are two separate areas completely. Your ability to walk around the room and interact with stuff in a physical room … or a classroom or a warehouse is way beyond anything virtual reality can do. Virtual reality is a make-believe world. Augmented reality is bringing additional stimulus into the environment we’re already in.”
Groom explains that a practical application of augmented reality could involve technicians repairing units they’re not specifically familiar with through the help of the hands-free and tether-free HoloLens headset. The HoloLens would display a video call to them with someone who has the experience they need along with holographic markups of exactly which parts they need to manipulate.
“We could have holograms that instruct you on how to take that apart. The manual could be floating here, you could have a live video with somebody here,” Groom says. “The person can see what you’re seeing so they can write on a tablet and you see the inking come up holographically. So ‘which screw did you mean to do?’ And the guy could circle it and you’d see. You know right there what you’re supposed to be doing.”
“I saw this about two years ago and I thought it was going to revolutionize the way you interact digitally. It’s the first true merger of the digital world and physical world and the applications for that are endless. I walk into my house and I put the HoloLens on and the weather is over my thermostat. I’m watching TV but there’s also Twitter on this wall and Edge is sitting over here and my Outlook is sitting over there. It merges your physical and digital worlds.”
McSporran says that the HoloLens is the first commercial system to reflect what can be done with augmented reality. Groom first started to get excited about the technology when he got a preview of it two years ago through his involvement as a Gold Partner in security with Microsoft.
Once the non-disclosure agreement on the HoloLens was lifted, he and McSporran were able to start talking about how they could take advantage of the technology.
“When he outlined how compact this was and how self-contained, all of the things started to line up in terms of what the potential applications for this were,” McSporran says.
“That’s when we started talking about what we could do to launch a business here in Fredericton where we could capitalize on our knowledge and our experience but link that to some of the real great programs that are running here on the education side but also take some of the expertise that exists in 3D modelling.”
McSporran and Groom came up with a three category plan for the kind of applications they could develop for the HoloLens.
“It’s three lines of development, so training and education and the second one is industrial process and then the third one is collaborative decision making,” McSporran says. “Each one of those will have loads of different strands within it where there are specific applications.”
Kognitiv Spark is working on the development of applications in each of these categories, from technical training and repairs in the field to warehouse picking and post-disaster management.