Careers in Augmented Reality

'Augmented reality' has become a hot term in new media since the MIT Media Lab unveiled SixthSense, an interactive data projection device, at the 2009 TED conference. The projection of virtual information onto the physical environment is already revolutionizing video games and mobile phone apps. Next up: healthcare, military training, and product marketing innovations. To take part in the new and improved digital future, train for careers in augmented reality.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality leverages existing technologies to create a single, powerful innovation: a digital overlay for the real world. As Greg Davis, manager of AR software company Total Immersion, explains it, "Augmented reality is a composite experience -- a video stream merged with a synthetic component and manipulated in real time. We are taking video and superimposing a digital layer over it." The technology projects computer-generated information or images onto the natural environment, helping people make decisions, navigate, understand their surroundings -- or, in the case of games, imagine new worlds.

Examples of augmented reality applications include:

  • Layar, a mobile phone app that superimposes real estate listings and other information on the phone's camera image of a street scene.
  • Yelp Monocle, a mobile app that allows users to instantly access customer ratings of businesses around them.
  • Invizimals, a computer game that projects interactive animals onto the environment.

Future development will push the technology's interactivity; SixthSense's innovation, for example, is its "gestural interface," software capable of tracking colored markers on the user's fingertips. The technology frees the hands from a keyboard or touch screen, allowing the computer or phone to recognize hand gestures in the air or any surface.

Training for Careers in Augmented Reality

The next generation of augmented reality depends on creative thinkers with the technical skills needed to turn science fiction into fact. Future development will call on diverse skills spanning the fields of engineering, computer programming, business, and visual design.

Where to Learn Augmented Reality

Train for careers in augmented reality with a college degree in a related technical, design, or business field. Examples of degrees in augmented reality include:

  • AAS in computer programming
  • AAS in graphic design
  • AAS or BS in database administration or analysis
  • BS in software engineering
  • BS in human-computer interaction (HCI)
  • BS or MBA in new media marketing

You can learn augmented reality skills at technical and vocational training institutes, community colleges, and four-year colleges. Degrees in augmented reality take one to four years to complete, depending on the degree level. Many programs are available online.

Augmented Reality Jobs

Augmented reality brings together visual imagery, data, software, hardware, and consumers. It takes a team of specialists to coordinate these features in a single design. You can apply your skills as a:

  • Technical specialist. AR technology relies on a synergy between hardware -- a computer or phone, camera, and projector -- and software (GPS, data retrieval, another applications). Augmented reality jobs include computer hardware engineer, software developer, and computer programmer.
  • Information specialist. Information specialists work with the engineers to manage the data the AR device uses. Jobs in this field include database analyst and information architect.
  • Design specialist. Design provides the crucial link between technology and end user. Designers create the device's physical look and function, its interface, and digital graphics. Specialties include industrial designer, graphic designer, usability specialist, and video game designer.
  • Business specialist. It takes a team of business experts to coordinate the design and production process, as well as market the finished product. Augmented reality careers in business include product developer, marketing manager, project manager, and new media advertising specialist.

Above all, careers in augmented reality require an ability to think outside the box. It takes ingenuity to determine how to connect consumers, information, and the physical environment in productive and entertaining ways.

Help Wanted: Finding Augmented Reality Jobs

A number of businesses are dabbling in augmented reality technology. Target augmented reality jobs at:

  • Mobile app software development companies
  • Mobile phone companies such as Nokia
  • Business software companies such as SAP
  • Gaming companies
  • Data management companies, including data storage, security, and retrieval software developers

Future applications for augmented reality will likely focus on the military and healthcare applications of the technology, creating augmented reality jobs in the military sector and with defense contractors, medical device manufacturers, scientific R&D, etc. Advertising agencies will likely prove another source of augmented reality jobs, as advertisers exploit the exciting potential of AR technology to reach interested customers in real time (for example, as they walk by a store).

The future of digital development relies on creativity as much as technical expertise. Whether your skill lies in engineering, visual arts, or business, there's a place for you in augmented reality development.


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