This post originally appeared on Beyond Bylines.
Augmented reality has benefited from recent advancements in smartphone technology, and is positioned to become an important factor in today’s media.
As news continues to shift into a digital format, augmented reality (AR) offers new opportunities for in-depth reporting.
AR is a technology that allows 3D virtual objects to be integrated into our real environment. Different from virtual reality, which uses 360° video to immerse the user in a virtual world, AR introduces a digital overlay into our existing reality.
AR has only recently attracted mainstream attention, but the technology is far from new.
It was first envisioned in 1968 by Harvard computer scientist Ivan Sutherland (who is commonly referred to as “the father of computer graphics”). Sutherland created the first AR device in the form of a headset.
In 2013, Google released Google Glass, an early example of commercial AR. But Google Glass was received with mixed results due to privacy and safety concerns, and the product never really caught on with the mass market.
In 2015, many of us became aware of AR technology via Snapchat with their now-famous lenses. And everyone else caught up in the summer of 2016, when the Pokémon GO mobile app erupted across the globe.
But AR technology still is catching up to the concept. Most mainstream AR tech currently is used for marketing and gaming, but recent developments have proven that AR holds real applications for journalism.
AR has taken off in the last few years by using smartphones to reach new users.
By integrating augmented reality platforms into smartphones, AR has fulfilled the requirement that all tech must before going mainstream: Be very easy to use.
With the necessary hardware already in everyone’s hands, it now has a potentially huge audience.
Just last year, the most significant development in mainstream AR technology arrived in the form of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. These new AR platforms, built specifically for Apple and Android smartphones, greatly expand each of the smartphone operating systems’ AR capabilities.
The ARKit and ARCore platforms employ motion tracking, environmental understanding, and light estimation — combined with the smartphone’s rear camera — to create a composite view of digital and real-world images, viewable through the smartphone screen.
News organizations have taken notice and are beginning to include AR components in articles. These components are used to model 3D visual content associated with news stories.
Quartz was an early AR proponent, adapting the technology to its stories as early as Sept. 2017, through its iOS app.
Around the same time, W Magazine featured an AR-powered cover of Katy Perry. Readers could experience the interactive September 2017 issue and access bonus content through its Beyond the Page app.
And in early Feb., The New York Times adapted the first article on its mobile app to interface with AR technology using ARKit. Users of the app now will be able to view 3D objects associated with NYT stories on their phones. The feature is on the Winter Olympics, allowing readers to preview top athletes in the games.
The Times released a follow-up piece days later, elaborating on the processes used for creating AR components in news features.
Although this new, smartphone-accessible version of AR tech is still in its infancy, future developments show a real potential for journalists and their audience.
As technology advances and allows for the capture and reproduction of remote objects – quickly and realistically – a range of interesting opportunities could become available to journalists. Imagine the press release of the future, distributed with a standard AR component attached, detailing a company’s new product in 3D.
And through the rendering of 3D remote objects, uploaded and displayed in AR, journalists could gain a more textured perspective, assisting them in creating a vivid picture for their readers. Soon, AR could help journalists cover remote events as if they were present.
AR will change the way we read the news, as well. As written news continues to veer toward the digital world and readers become acclimated to increasingly complex multi-media stories, AR could become an important aspect in our daily news consumption.
Augmented reality offers firsthand knowledge of the objects important to conceptualize and contextualize the news. Journalists have a powerful new tool — one they should use to pull readers deeper into their stories.
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