Augmented reality expert explains how AR will help humanity

We've been hearing and seeing plenty about augmented reality these days -- from Microsoft's HoloLens to the mysterious Google-backed startup Magic Leap -- but aside from the gee-whiz factor, its benefits can sometimes feel almost as illusory as virtual images. Gaia Dempsey, managing director of DAQRI, which makes an AR-enabled smart hard hat, offers up a strong case for why augmented reality is more than just hype. In a new video for the upcoming Future of Storytelling Summit (which also produced the stunning video of animation legend Glen Keane drawing in VR), Dempsey explains how AR could fundamentally change the way we learn and experience the world. For example, it's one thing to be told how the mechanics of a clock works in text or video, it's an entirely different experience to be able to manipulate a moving set of clock gears in three dimensions.

Dempsey also makes an astute observation: Millions of kids are already building three-dimensional structures in Minecraft, which is giving them the building blocks of working in AR. That's one major reason Microsoft ended snatched up Minecraft creator Mojang -- it's a game that compliments HoloLens perfectly.

"Many industries are seeing their number of experts dwindling while their number of products are increasing, so getting critical information to the right people in context is a big win," Dempsey said in an email. "Suddenly, you don't need to know everything, because you have an interactive knowledge base with you at all times that senses your surroundings, guides you through complicated operations, and connects you to your team. The adoption of AR makes sense in this context because it delivers value today."

She also thinks AR and virtual reality have plenty of room to coexist. "VR totally immerses the user and puts them into a virtual world, which is great for gaming, and also training scenarios," Dempsey said. "If you want to control the entire view, VR is best. AR on the other hand puts digital information into the real environment so you can see it in context of the world around you."

As for DAQRI's smart helmet, it's currently in pilot testing with around a dozen Fortune 500 companies, Dempsey tells us. So far, it's mainly interesting companies in areas like automation, oil, gas, transportation and aerospace. The company plans to launch an SDK for developers to build on its AR platform next year, with an eventual launch at some point later in 2016.

"In the future augmented reality will be everywhere around us," Dempsey concludes in the video. "It's something that in a few years we won't be able to imagine our lives without it."