Regulate augmented reality in a digital world


How to regulate augmented reality in a digital world

Businesses and governments unite to regulate augmented spaces

Authors: Allan V. Cook, Joe Mariani, Pankaj Kishnani, Cary Harr

Augmented reality is rapidly bringing the physical and digital worlds closer. While this can create value for businesses, it also means new challenges such as who owns augmented spaces that government and businesses need to work together to regulate.

Imagine you are walking down the street, looking for a restaurant. You slip on your augmented reality (AR) glasses to see reviews in real time as you stroll. At a crosswalk, you glance up at a billboard and notice that it is an animated ad for the laundry detergent that you just put on your shopping list. Flipping up the glasses, you see that the physical billboard is a car ad. The detergent ad was just for you, digitally overlaid in the augmented experience.

On the next block, you see a promising Thai restaurant. It is inexpensive, quiet, and has good reviews. But then, on the wall next to the entrance, you notice some graffiti complaining about food poisoning. “I wonder why they don’t clean that off the wall,” you think, but a quick flip up of the glasses again reveals that, while the wall is real, the graffiti only exists in the digital world. The restaurant cannot erase it—in fact, it may not even be able to see it.

These new situations may seem like science fiction, but they are very real and are happening today. AR use is increasingly moving from fringe innovators and gamers to the mainstream, with more than 1 billion users predicted by 2020. With such rapid growth, the industry is still feeling its way around how current rules apply in these new, virtual scenarios. Physical objects and digital information can increasingly coexist, interact, and complement each other through the layering of content, applications, and technical infrastructure over real-world locations. In other words, AR merges the physical and digital worlds visually, defining a new space called the spatial Web, or Web 3.0.

For businesses, this opens new avenues for products, services, advertising, and a wide variety of other experiences from gaming to learning to the creation of user communities that generate their own content. It carries the potential to create value in myriad ways; in fact, we are already seeing multiple real-life examples. Rather than sifting through massive maintenance manuals, workers can use AR to see the relevant specs for the part they are looking at—with some current use cases demonstrating efficiency gains as high as 34 percent. Customs agents can see detailed information about shipping containers to determine if any pose a smuggling risk and should be inspected. First responders arriving at the scene of a car crash can see information about the emergency, and even determine where to cut that particular model of the car to extract the injured.

For AR to expand and continue to achieve its potential, both businesses and governments must address questions about how current regulations apply to the spatial Web—and whether additional, new regulations are needed. Individuals must know the rules of the road for AR; businesses must know how they can monetize it; and governments must know how they can protect citizens and businesses without stifling innovation. To do so will require the cooperation of businesses using AR and of the governments regulating it.

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