The UK can spearhead the global AR revolution


Danny Lopez, COO at Blippar, argues why he thinks Britain could be at the forefront of augmented reality innovation. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the Internet.

Augmented reality has been making waves for a number of years now, but many have been sceptical, either arguing the technology is already in decline, or that it will never take off in the first place.

Big technology players such as Apple, Google and Facebook have recently started to make bold and ambitious statements about the impact this technology could have on society. Tim Cook has hailed AR as ‘transformative’, and embedding AR into the next generation of iPhones has suddenly brought the ability to create augmented reality for people across the globe.

Although AR has been on the tech world’s radars for some time now, it’s only now that we can see its true potential, and the future is incredibly exciting.

The key to unlock the potential of augmented reality is computer vision, the branch of artificial intelligence relating to visual cognition. This is an area in which London has a unique critical mass of academic and developer talent.

AR: The applications

Why is this important? Together, augmented reality and computer vision can redefine entire industries, and have a huge impact on society itself. It will transform the way we educate our children, our ability to diagnose disease, and the trust we place on driverless cars.

If a diabetic collapses in a foreign city and doctors don’t have access to their medial records, it could be fatal. That life could be saved if a medic was able to point a smartphone at the individual’s face to access those records – which had been knowingly and willingly shared.

It’s a game-changer for education, too. If children can interact with their textbooks, they’re more likely to engage with the topics at hand. If they are interested in finding out more about a particular historical figure, or in the science behind photosynthesis, their curiosity can be piqued through their camera lens, bringing the subject matter to life.

This future of augmented reality is not a lifetime away. And it’s the UK that is uniquely positioned to be at the centre of the development over the next few years.

Fuelled by the ‘Golden Triangle’ of universities in London, Oxford and Cambridge, the UK is fast-becoming a world-leading cluster of computer vision and augmented reality innovation.

The country has already proven itself to have developed a speciality in machine learning and artificial intelligence in particular, with £270m worth of inward investment in these fields over the past few years and companies like Magic Pony making waves globally.

‘Silicon Fen’

Britain’s academic expertise in computer vision, particularly centred around expertise in the so-called Silicon Fen in Cambridge, has led to a number of players taking advantage of this expertise.

A critical mass, not just of academics, but of media agencies and developers means the UK can be a key player in a market that has the potential to reach revenues of over $160bn by 2020. It’s the diversity of the tech sector in Britain, bringing together people from all over the world, their different backgrounds and expertise in a wide range of fields that gives Britain an intellectual advantage.

Britain’s unique connections to other AR hubs around the world – Silicon Valley, New York and Singapore – only enhance the expertise here. With these links, Britain is able to spearhead the development of a new AR and computer vision cluster to fully unlock the tech’s potential.

Augmented reality is not a gimmick. When integrated with computer vision, we’re only just about to see its true potential. We’re about to see a step-change in the way that it’s used – from education, to healthcare, and the UK can be right at the forefront of this.

As in the early days of the Internet, some were wary as others embraced the technology wholeheartedly. We’re in a similar position now but it’s time to wake up to a new reality, an augmented one.

It can do a lot of good and change our lives for the better.