Why Augmented Reality is Not Ready

Arthur Rasmusson | COO, Arc Compute
June 24, 2021
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A slightly out of focus photo that I took of John Carmack trying out the Atomontage engine at Oculus Connect 4.

The following is from a Facebook post I made 1 year ago on June 7th, 2018:

What enabled VR to become functionally capable of inducing reliable "presence" (the qualitative threshold for experiences that convince all the cognitive systems that make up your conscious mind that your physical body is somewhere else entirely) was 4 or 5 different overlapping technological revolutions which all happened at roughly the same time. For example in the quality of mobile phone displays and graphical computing power as well as sub millimetre accuracy positional tracking. These ideas were not new and they'd been tried several times since the early 60s each time failing to achieve presence. What differed this time is that we had the prerequisite pillars to support this sense of full presence whereas in the prior attempts with the limited technology available (See: VR from the 90s powered by a $50,000 SGI workstation compared to a 1500$ PC with an Oculus Rift today) it meant the idea was ahead of it's time. During the 90s when there were proposals to develop the current day equivalent of the "retina" display for pixel density and weight in a VR headset panel, investors were looking at billions of dollars of R&D to support an entirely unproven market which had never seen a single consumer success. Fortunately we got many of those capabilities bootstrapping off the mobile phone market which through intense competition generated very low weight, very high pixel density, high refresh rate, low latency response time, low cost panels which were among a few other technological pillars (gyroscopes, positional tracking, sufficient price performance in GPUs to drive 90 frames per second high field of view realistic graphics at less than 10 milliseconds of latency) the core missing part of why VR wasn't able to pan out in the past.


I am highly skeptical of AR because we need enormous breakthroughs on the order of all the core qualitative pillars which were missing for VR during the 90s in order for AR to be viable now. My feeling is that this "wave" of AR will be much the same as the 80s and 90s waves of VR where it went absolutely nowhere due to core foundations of the technology not being in place hence there being very limited value created for users as the technology was more of a neat gimmick rather than a fundamentally better way of doing business.


Something is awfully familiar with today's AR when we reflect on 90s VR: The ideas are great, but technological revolutions don't pan out on the basis of good ideas. They pan out only when the revolution is powered by smart people working on the right problems at the right time. Now is not that time for AR.


We need break throughs in at least 5 separate industries which won't have the supporting technologies for between 5 to 15 years. These breakthroughs are needed in computer vision to properly digitize the real world using headset mounted cameras, AI to contextualize all of your surroundings so the software can understand the enormous amount of variation and complexity that is involved in understanding human tool manipulation in order to overlay useful information over your existing vision, full display pixel fill (variable transparency moving up to fully opaque pixels rather than transparent "holograms" which are today essentially just a small projector onto a glass lens see: Microsoft Hololens) and so on.


There is a bright future ahead for both AR and VR but right now we are in a world where we have a dramatic set of new very narrow VR specific capabilities which are hard to design for but which create far more value when built correctly compared to any prior technological paradigm.


It is easy to speculate about the future. It is much harder to create real value for people today building for the new tools that we have now. The people who do that will be remembered as the ones who made things happen that nobody had ever experienced before.

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