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Augmented Reality: Don’t Forget Audio!

09 Oct 2017, Posted by William Newell in Technologies

When you attend a conference, a launch, or perhaps just a private demonstration of augmented reality (AR), a new mobile app, or the latest game, you are often wowed by the amazing graphics, and how realistically sports, battle scenes, or information is presented. You leave the presentation jazzed, thinking about what you may be able to accomplish with the service or product you just saw. But remember not to overlook the importance of audio. Even the flashiest visuals would not have the same dramatic impact they have on us without quality audio. Whether it is music, effects, dialogue, or a combination of all three, audio is a key ingredient to build emotional responses. Would Star Wars be the same without the masterful scoring provided by John Williams? Of course not. Audio creates mood, anticipation, joy, sadness, etc.

So for AR, audio is just as important as it has been in the past for movies, theater, and games. To learn more about how audio is being used for augmented reality I spoke with Tom Wesselman Sr. Director of the software group at Plantronics. Plantronics is one the leaders in audio products.  You probably know them from their earbuds or other listening devices. But Tom and Plantronics are engaged in much more than that. Tom shared with me some of the ways Plantronics is looking to innovate in digital media and how they are positioned to be a great partner for AR hardware manufacturers, as well as those of us who are involved in the process of creating AR experiences.

For example Plantronics is able to collect and analyze data just by listening. Imagine you are in a distance collaboration meeting, like a GoToMeeting, or WebEx session, or a 3D meeting room, or maybe you manage a support center. With Plantronics’ technology you can measure decibel levels in a sound wave, and analyze inflection, tone, and more. Let’s suppose you need to solve a problem with a support situation. With this type of data you could quickly know how communication was handled.  Was the customer upset? Was the support team frustrated? This is important to know since the idea behind a support center is to solve problems. But solving problems can bring a great deal of frustration, so keeping a team fresh, knowing when to give someone a break, is key to optimal performance.

For AR, audio is not only necessary to bring an experience alive, it is also essential to provide immersion. Imagine if you will that we launch an event at a public park. We are going to set you up with an HMD, and you are going to walk around and see dinosaurs around you. Without hearing the roar of T-Rex, the experience would not be the same. In addition, audio plays an even bigger role. Audio frequencies can be captured by outward facing microphones, analyzed and if needed, canceled by other frequencies so that you don’t hear them. In this example we would probably aim at canceling traffic noise.

If you want to learn more about this topic, and get a jump into AR and what audio can do for your projects, you can meet Tom in person. Just join us at my panel at Digital Hollywood this coming October 10, at 12 Noon . Other panelists include Leon Laroue (Epson Moverio), Eric Trabold (Avegant), Michael Leventhal (Holmes Weinberg, PC), Soulaiman Itani (Atheer), and Mike Hildebrandt (DAQRI). Come and learn how your company can be part of this technological revolution and tremendous business opportunity.

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