Google has one hell of a runway to augmented reality in its Google Glass—there's this week's PR blitz and news that Warby Parker could finally help lend some style to Google's goggles. (There are still plenty of challenges to consider.) And it's pushing developers to build augmented reality apps we can't even imagine yet. But Google won't necessarily rule a new augmented reality—we've been imaging visions of this future for too long.
I can still vividly remember a trip down to London's Trocadero center to play on some Virtual Reality arcade games about 20 years ago. Virtual reality was a fad in the 1990s, though it was severely limited by the era's tech. Augmented reality is kind of the redheaded stepsister of these systems. It requires more modern tech power, and is probably more useful than an immersive "alternate" world like virtual reality promised. It's about adding layers, not supplanting the real world.
AR goggles like Glass let you Google info about jellyfish, while you're looking at some in an aquarium, or they let you seamlessly video-call someone to share the view you've got of some special event. The idea that Google could get its brand in front of your eyes while collecting data on your every move is where the innovation lies.
Thanks to advances in optics, sensors, battery systems, and mobile computing that have come from the smartphone and tablet world, AR is poised to be accessible to many users. It's a tech with fantastic potential, and if you look at trends like the boom in wearable technology, Apple's "invisible" interface Siri, and even the push to get data off a smartphone and onto a smartwatch, it's almost a natural progression of mobile tech.
That's why companies like Vuzix have long been making AR goggles, why the military is interested in the system, and why Apple and Sony have patented their AR ideas. Plus, inevitably, there's a payback for these firms: With today's networked tech the kind of valuable data that Google and its ilk could extract from an AR headset may be incredibly saleable.