Augmented reality glasses have been the next big wearable tech frontier for years, and it looks like they’ll hit a tipping point in 2021.
- Apple was planning to be in the smart glasses business by 2023, but rumors of a first appearance by Apple Glass in 2021 already emerged earlier this year.
- Facebook has announced its plans to launch a smart glasses product in 2021, though the tech behemoth has the added challenge of convincing people to actually trust them.
- And LG is getting in on the action too, hoping that an ultra-light prototype in the works for next year will convince users to switch over to their setup.
It makes sense why these tech companies and many others are hustling to be the early bird of the industry: ABI Research predicts that AR glasses will be a $100 billion market by 2023.
However, there was some other recent AR news that caught my attention. And maybe it caught yours as well since you’re now reading this article?
AR doggles are a thing now
The United States Army recruited Seattle-based company Command Sight to develop a prototype for military-grade AR goggles for dogs (“doggles”) via a Small Business Innovation Research investment. The goal is to create an XR (extended reality) environment that allows soldiers to better command military dogs remotely through visual cues and avatars.
Like most dogs, military dogs are trained with commands, hand signals, and positive reinforcement. But these methods all require close proximity between dog and soldier. In operations such as explosive device detection or dangerous rescue hunts, the only remote communication solution is to strap a walkie-talkie to a dog’s back, which not only leads to canine confusion but also can risk unwanted exposure.
Command Sight’s doggles allow soldiers to initiate visual cues that can appear silently within a dog’s line of sight. The project recently received a green light for phase-two funding.
An extended-reality existence sounds pretty Jetsons to me. But as it turns out, XR simulations using both virtual and augmented reality have been leveraged for years now to enrich workplace environments.
- Both the U.S. Navy and Air Force were early adopters of head-mounted displays (HMDs), creating hyper-realistic VR simulations for combat training.
- Boeing implemented an XR training simulation for the complex task of electrical wiring installation on jets and improved engineer productivity by 30%.
- Walmart purchased 17,000 Oculus VR headsets to incorporate into their employee onboarding experience.
Other corporations are in hot pursuit. A 2018 survey from the Harvard Business Review found that 20% of executives already had mixed-reality technology in production at their company, and 68% of them believed it was important to achieving their company’s strategic goals over the next 18 months.
All this workplace innovation is certainly exciting. But it’s these damn doggles I can’t stop thinking about. If AR doggles can influence the behavior of man’s best friend, will a human version do the same for me?
AR, I’m begging you: Change my behavior
This might be the quarantine-induced record levels of screen time talking, but most online content doesn’t really get a rise out of me anymore. I need something more visceral and realistic, and XR environments reinvigorate my nerdy love for technology in ways that meticulously scripted TikTok footage cannot.
XR even did a bang-up job salvaging our Halloween thrills this year. We downloaded the immersive haunted house game Affected: The Manor to our Oculus Quest, and at one point, we were screaming so loudly that the neighbors came over to check on us.
My VR-induced screams were girlish and genuine, and a similar level of emotional depth may be achievable in the partially immersive world of AR. Research from Stanford found that social cues hold up in AR environments: In one experiment, participants unanimously chose not to sit in a chair that had previously been occupied by an artificial avatar. And a study published in the journal Education and Information Technologies found that AR simulations in college business ethics classes were more effective for increasing “moral imagination,” which leads to greater moral sensitivity.
Augmented reality appears to feel real enough to change our behavior. This is key, and the “realness” of XR environments is so important scientists have a term for it — social presence theory — which measures the authenticity of a virtual simulation.
Imagine a notification of positive reinforcement appearing on the corner of your lens whenever you take a desired action or an alert gently vibrating your eyeglass frames whenever you appear to be going off course, whether it be while following directions on a map or deviating from a previously uploaded nutrition plan. (I personally want a virtual Chris Hemsworth to appear in my periphery and shake his head disapprovingly whenever I bring a cookie to my lips, which these days is about once every three hours. But I digress.)
Seeing how popular wearable tech has become in recent years as a vehicle for self-actualization, I totally see smart glasses taking guided behavior change to the next level. It feels scary but also exciting.
In the aforementioned Harvard Business Review report, Deloitte managing director Allan Cook notes that “Every 10 or 15 years, there’s an impactful shift in the way people use and interact with technology and data” and that “mixed reality is going to be the fourth shift (after PCs, the internet, and mobile devices). It will be as big as each one of those earlier shifts.”
It sounds like we won’t have to be jealous of these AR doggles for long. But as this fourth shift in consumer technology draws near, the question may not be whether smart glasses can change our behavior but rather how much we will let them.