Matti’s insights 1: Are you ready for the Augmented Future?

In the first of a series of Blog Posts, e-Spatial’s CIO and Consultant Matti Seikkula looks into the future – an Augumented Future.

Soon, thinking about Technology will be a thing of the past. It will be embedded (augmented) seamlessly into everything we do. IT (Information Technology) will become OT (Operational Technology) – it will happen out of sight, behind the scenes, through interfaces that require no technical understanding.

Two things currently making waves in the technical world are Virtual Reality (VR), or simulation, and Augmented Reality (AR). They are both likely to contribute significantly to an augmented future.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality involves creating a 3D world, and designing and manipulating the assets within that world. In gaming terms, this can be illustrated by role-playing 3D worlds such as games like Elder Scrolls v Skyrim. In Spatial terms, this equates to an engineer, who designs buildings (assets) and uses VR devices such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, to bring the design to life. The engineer can then view the model – increase its size (make it life size), walk inside, outside and between buildings, to view the design from multiple angles, and manipulate the model – change dimensions (move walls), and add new features (windows, wardrobes).

What is Augmented Reality?

AR is more about viewing our current world through a lens and adding information. An example of AR in its simplest form, is adding a small information box beside an asset, which contains more information and allows you to drill down for further information. Another example of AR is creating a view-through type of experience (similar to an X Ray), which allows you to see hidden assets behind walls, ceilings and floors.

The use of both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is becoming more widespread and mainstream. However, most businesses and industries are using the two in isolation which I find puzzling given that they go hand-in-hand in the spatial world.

What do you get when you combine VR and AR?

‘Mixed Reality’ – a relatively new term, combines the ‘new world’ (VR), and the ‘real world’ (AR), allowing you to position complex current and future assets onto a real world canvas, with a lens to view it through. Add in full interactivity, and you have a fully mouldable environment to trial new and wonderful things.

An example of an exciting Mixed Reality experience currently live in the spatial world is one jointly produced by Trimble and Microsoft. Trimble has been testing Microsoft’s HoloLens product within their engineering projects. VR (using Holographic 3D Imagery), is used to design a miniature model of a building complex, which is then brought to life in real-size, viewed through AR – see Video. The MR interface allows the engineers to continue to test and change the design as if it were the real world.

How will Mixed Reality contribute to Smart Cities?

MR technology would greatly impact concepts such as Smart Cities. In their current states, Smart Cities provide valuable information including:

  • What changes are planned over time;
  • Asset maintenance – how well they are maintained, and when;
  • Information for visitors – visitor highlights, where to shop;

A fully wireless Smart City does this efficiently and seamlessly, using apps, micro-services and API’s.

MR technology would take this to a whole new level. An Augmented Smart City would have sensors everywhere, interacting seamlessly with its citizens’ and visitors’ devices in real-time. Information would be constantly and automatically monitored and analysed, providing better advice and information to the end-user such as:

  • Event-specific information that individuals are interested in (Santa Parade);
  • Transport updates.

Initially, information would be transferred via simple instruction sets and interfaces to your Smart Device. Longer-term, these simple interfaces may become virtual advisors using Artificial Intelligence entities such as IBM Watson.

The future – different ways to interact

Individuals will need to be able to interact with their Smart City at different levels, depending on their level of engagement, technical ability and hardware. Most simply, the individual can use their Smart Device as they do now. For the more adventurous, they could use their Wearables – glasses, watches, jewellery, clothing. ‘Smart’ versions of these objects can provide real-time information of a more personal nature (temperature, heart rate, Oxygen levels). They will also be able to communicate seamlessly with the Augmented Smart City. And, if you’re a techno-freak, like me, you’d probably want to check out the next level of interaction – the Internables (internal wearables). This is technology that integrates (augments) with your body:

  • Haptic Tattooing – makes your skin sense and visualise information;
  • Swallowed Internables – monitors your intestines and informs health professionals, medical examiners and insurance brokers of any issues;

Even more drastic:

  • Eye surgery – removing the need for additional devices such as HoloLens and Google Glasses:
  • Ear surgery – removing the need for headsets.

Think how our lives will change as technology becomes more augmented and seamless, and our world moves more towards automation and integration.

You, waiting at a bus stop might trigger the lights to come on, and relaxing music to play – prompted by communications between your smart device, the radio and the bus stop. AR could pop up, exhibiting a bus timetable and options to book and pay for your trip in advance.

If you are involved in an accident, emergency services, your family and insurers will be notified immediately.

Within the next decade, we will all be living in Augmented Smart Cities. Both cities and individuals will be filled with sensors that wirelessly transfer information and advise us in real-time. Perhaps within two decades, we will receive unsolicited advice and sensors in our bodies will distribute chemicals/medicines to fix imbalances, without our consent. This is an exciting but scary thought. For some, it could mean some types of thinking are no longer necessary – imagine the number of skills we have now that would just disappear. For others, motivated by the opportunities that more data and rafts of meaningful information can bring, the opportunities are endless as we have ready access all the time.

What does this have to do with Spatial?

It’s all based on Spatial.

The Smart City assets have location and spatial dimensions.

People and their wearables/internables have a consistently changing (moving) location and dimensions; even the spatial dimensions within the human body can be mapped in 3D to provide better insights – consider breaking a bone – the dimensions in the body change, triggering the internables’ sensors to inform the medical professionals.

  • What an exciting Spatial Augmented world we’ll be living in within the next 5-10 years.