Augmented Reality and Clothing: The Future?

Augmented Reality and Clothing: The Future?

What is Augmented Reality?


Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that is set to change the way we see the world forever. The definition of augmented reality in the Oxford Dictionary is “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” It is a blur between reality and virtual reality, and creates a whole host of opportunities for entertainment and for business. Essentially, augmented reality adds images, graphics, and sounds to the real world by displaying them on a digital device.

More smartphones are being built with augmented reality displays inbuilt, and there are a number of apps on the market that feed data in through your smartphone or your tablet’s camera. These apps can be used to map the stars in the sky (Star Chart), check local crime rates and crime locations (SpotCrime) or just to acquire useful information about your surroundings, including restaurants, bars, cinemas, and much more (Acrossair).

Displays are becoming more subtle and usable, with the much-discussed Google Glass spearheading the evolution of wearable augmented reality displays. Currently, these glasses are fairly chunky and obvious, but as we have seen with the fine-tuning of phones and music devices, it won’t be long before outward appearance of augmented reality glasses is no different to a pair of reading glasses.

Whilst this is exciting prospect, a number of issues have surfaced regarding safety and privacy, and there have been calls to ban augmented reality glasses for drivers, as well as for visitors to cinemas, casinos, and strip clubs. This represents challenges moving forward, and as the industry expands and the demand increases, the authorities must get to grips with how augmented reality might impact everyday life.

At the moment, augmented reality is being used by the military with HUD info in the cockpits of aircraft and on soldiers’ goggles / optical aids. This provides combat assistance, including the tagging of specific objects to determine danger, and the inclusion of 360° cameras for improved vision and awareness. The technology can also be used to assist surgeons by projecting vital data such as the heartbeat or blood pressure of a patient through the display device.

A History of Augmented Reality Technology

The term, “augmented reality” was first coined by Professor Tom Caudell in the early 1990s. Whilst working for Boeing, Caudell saw the opportunity to improve the manufacturing process by virtually overlaying the positions of where cables went within the aircraft structures. In 1993, Loomis developed the idea of a navigation system for the blind. This used GPS to provide acoustic instructions and navigational assistance to the user.

In 1996, Jun Rekimoto developed the 2D matrix marker barcodes, which allowed accurate camera tracking, and the following year a common definition of augmented reality was published as “combining real and virtual, interactive in real time, and registered in 3D.”

The invention of the camera phone in the same year began bringing this kind of technology closer to the consumer, and in 1999 the first GPS-enabled mobile phone was released. In 2000, the first Battlefield Augmented Reality System was developed, giving soldiers added information about their surrounding environment. Fast-forward to 2003, and AR hits consumer devices with the game “Mozzies” on the Siemens SX1, voted best mobile game that year.

2006 sees the introduction of Nokia’s “Mara”, an augmented reality guidance app for mobiles. This development allowed users with camera equipped mobile devices to tag details of surroundings and navigate the area using projections on their device. Two years later, we see Wikitude, which links GPS to Wikipedia entries, and in 2009 Layar is released – offering multiple content layers from different sources.

In 2011, we see the emergence of Google Glass as a prototype, and we are now very close to the widespread consumerisation of wearable AR display devices. As prices become more affordable, there is the distinct possibility that we will accept them as a matter of everyday life, much like the iPad and the smartphone.

Augmented Reality on Clothing

For our industry, augmented reality is an extremely exciting prospect. It allows us a lot of freedom of creation with designs and gives us the opportunity to do something a little bit different. Furthermore, the future presents some superb opportunities for our customers that need branded company uniforms. For example, augmented reality will provide the chance to do away with name tags for staff, with the prospect of when seen wearing their customised uniform through augmented reality glasses, a virtual profile is brought up outlining the individual’s name, role, specialties, skills, or interests. As well as adding an amazing personal touch and icebreaker for customer / client facing staff, it also adds an extra layer of accountability.

Augmented reality clothing provides boundless opportunity for a number of different industries, not just for customer facing staff in restaurants, shops, and bars. It provides the perfect opportunity to market your products and services in an amazingly dynamic way. One benefit of traditional customised workwear is that it helps your brand get recognised. Can you imagine enriching that brand with extra marketing graphics or calls to action through a live augmented reality display? For example, if you are “Phil the plumber”, an AR-optimised workwear design can pull up your contact details to anyone with a display. You become a walking, talking, welcoming advert.

Along with these truly fascinating prospects, augmented reality can be used to be plain silly and entertaining. For a prime example of this, see our video below:


The Future of Augmented Reality

Some critics have labelled augmented reality as a fad, but as the technology improves and devices become more accessible to normal people, there is every chance that it will take the world by storm. At Shirtworks, we believe that AR may well evolve to be a standard and widely adopted addition to our everyday lives. However, for something so radical to take hold, it will need to provide the user with useful information and provide businesses with a viable and tangible benefit.

Augmented reality technology provides an amazing level of opportunity for customer service, marketing, and communication. For us, the potential for AR-optimised clothing is extremely exciting, and we’re looking ahead to the future with a view to expanding this part of our business. This technology is well worth keeping an eye on, so watch this space!

For more information about augmented reality design and any of our other printing and embroidery services, please call us today on 0800 072 5334.

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