Some Open Questions in the Augmented Reality World

Firstly I should be honest and admit that I work for a research centre that specialises in security, reliability and trust in IT (SnT) so perhaps I am a bit biased. However, to be honest this post is motivated more by my experiences over the years in conducting user studies and developing mixed reality systems. During which time I encountered a few questions arising as much from the studies we undertook and as much by thinking about the impact of such technologies in the longer term. As such this article is really a collection of very early thoughts and random musings on the future of augmented reality.

Do you have the right to augment space?

At the moment there seem to be almost no rules on whether you can augment space, whether this be somewhere you own or some random building in the street which you don’t. This would seem odd for example I could in theory put up something on our outside your house which you really hate. If I did this with a projector or painted your house with this information the police may show some interest. As yet though there seems to be no rules on adding augmentations to real spaces, whether this be indoors or outdoors. You could argue that an augmentation on a mobile phone does not “damage” your home or building, which is technically correct but there is no saying what changes to other people’s behaviour either towards you or your property may be.

Unlike current property law where I most likely cannot install something on your land without your permission it is entirely possible in augmented reality for me to install something on your property without having to ask. Even if people do not physically have to stand on your land, I could charge them to view or in someway interact with content on your property and you may never even know about it.

Augmented Reality Planning laws?

Surely not I hear you say, we have enough laws already. However, following on from the point above should we have laws on what can be added to our real environment in the form of augmentations? After all we have laws which restrict what we can physically build, where we can place posters and whether we can change the appearance of our own house. While most augmented reality experiences are most likely harmless as the technology becomes more widespread like the point above should I be able to add what I like, anywhere? This is especially true of experiences which take place in the street and where the same augmented reality experience is shared by large numbers of people. Right now it is not a problem and may never be but there is the possibility of problems in future.

Do I have the right to augment you? 

It’s blind date time again, you turn up and well the person is rather nice to chat too but frankly is not your type physically. A common problem! So I put on the Google Glasses and augment them, now they look much better and I can see a future in this relationship! It may sound odd but we already have clothing based on projection, so why not the rest of you?

Safety in Augmented Reality Experiences 

Over the years I have conducted studies involving large number of people who were playing augmented reality games. Under these test conditions people normally wave their right to safety in exchange for signing an agreement to that effect. In essence they assume responsibility for their actions. The same often also applies when you buy commercial products, except where there is a fault with the system that causes you hamd e.g. dodgy breaks in certain cars. However, as any researcher should do and knows you always try to remove any safety risks or you will quickly get a bad reputation. In our case we never had any accidents, but on a few occasions it was clear that that the user’s attention was so focused on the augmented reality elements that they were paying minimal attention to the real world. The best examples included when people would start following objects and attempt to cross roads, potentially ignoring on-coming traffic. Fortunately we always had an observer on-hand to avoid anything nasty happening. To date we have had this luxury but as we have recently seen with the AR glasses from Google there is a huge potential for information overload, and with that a huge increase in the cognitive load that we place on end-users. If we assume ¬†that people only have limited cognitive resources then there is clearly a risk that with time more accidents will occur – in much the same way as using a mobile phone appears to increase accidents among car drivers. I personally remain concerned that we are potentially almost providing too much information at the wrong time; therefore potentially increasing accidents. Thus we really need to understand both the user and spatial contexts of any interaction.

These are just a few of the interesting issues we face over the coming years with augmented reality. Some may turn out to be nothing or simply a storm in a tea cup but as the technology becomes more embedded in everyday life perhaps we should start considering them.

About Rod McCall

Rod McCall is a researcher in the field of human-computer interaction in areas such as augmented reality, mobile gaming in-car systems and virtual environments. He has a passing interest in economics after not being entirely convinced by the rubbish presented as fact during lectures on that particular subject while at uni.
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