When it comes to popularizing AR, much of the credit goes to Pokémon Go, released in July 2016. The mobile app, which makes AR so fun and easy, not to mention addictive, has been downloaded more than 800 million times. (So, you are not alone in feeling goofy about your slo-mo tiptoe toward a ’mon while gazing at the phone.)

But the technology really hit the big time in 2017 when not one, not two, but five major tech companies launched their AR frameworks or apps: Amazon (Sumerian), Apple (ARKit), Facebook (AR Studio), Google (ARCore), and Snapchat (Lens Studio). Add companies such as Arloon, Aurasma, Blippar, and Layar into the mix, and the AR segment is truly hopping. In fact, the latest report from Digi-Capital pinpoints AR as the primary driver in the $108 billion AR/VR market, with revenues predicted to hit $90 billion by 2022.

VR, while much less popular, is no less exciting, with major players such as HTC (Vive headset), Microsoft (HoloLens), Oculus (Rift and Go), Samsung (Gear VR), and Sony (PlayStation VR) vying to bring the best and most affordable equipment and technology to the masses. Then there are ClassVR, Lenovo VR Classroom, and Nearpod VR, for instance, dedicated to delivering VR experiences right into the classroom.

Getting the Basics Right

While AR/VR adoption is still in the early stages for publishers, it is not too early to plan for consistent structure and architecture of the content, especially for storage and retrieval, says Waseem Andrabi, v-p of content services at Cenveo Publisher Services. “Metadata related to AR/VR content will be critical for discoverability,” Andrabi says. “But industry metadata standards for AR/VR assets are not yet as ubiquitous and tested as they are for published content.”

Use cases and documentation related to the digital arts and humanities are available, but they remain niche topics, Andrabi says. “Dublin Core metadata, for instance, is used to describe and enable access to digital resources, while the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model provides definitions and a formal structure for describing the implicit and explicit concepts and relationships used in cultural heritage documentation. But as publishers develop more AR/VR assets, there will be unique requirements for their markets that need to be addressed with metadata and associated standards.”

For now, Andrabi and his team are taking part in various working groups not only to monitor but also to inform metadata best practices across many markets and content types. “Our involvement in the Metadata 2020 initiative,” Andrabi says, “makes us part of an important working group that we believe will address many forward-thinking use cases.”

Scalability is an issue in AR/VR for smaller and midsize publishing houses, observes Tyler Carey, chief revenue officer at Westchester Publishing Services. “If the publishers are already trying to keep up with acquiring titles and getting them to market, it can be hard to find the time to, say, evaluate a VR add-on for a product,” Carey says. “But as the larger publishers with more resources and time evaluate uses and services around AR/VR, the better offerings will rise to the top and become more self-selecting for adaptation at the smaller houses. No doubt there will also be author-driven projects that will help test the limits of the media, and like the early experiments with enhanced e-books years ago, I look forward to seeing where this all goes.”

The goals of digital publishing, says Subrat Mohanty, CEO of Hurix Digital, “should not be solely about publishing the digital version of a book. It should also be about attracting the right audience and keeping them engaged.” And while readers can be acquired via marketing and the right metadata, Mohanty finds that keeping them engaged remains a big challenge. “A few years back, an interactive e-book was the effective solution to this issue,” Mohanty says. “But after making the content device-friendly and adding video or audio, what else can be done to get the reader’s attention? This is where AR comes in to elevate the reader’s experience.”

Offering AR/VR Solutions

Hurix Digital’s Kitaboo AR platform, which was launched in February, combines the experience of physical books and the digital world. “Publishers can easily upload multiple digital assets—audio, video, or external links—to make the physical books more engaging for the readers,” Mohanty says. “Students can point an app-enabled device at the physical page and discover digital content, making it a simple point-and-play feature.” With the Kitaboo AR platform, publishers can eliminate the need for multiple editions of their books, thereby reducing their production costs, Mohanty says. “At the same time, this platform provides detailed reader analytics so that publishers can refine their offerings and better plan their marketing strategies.” One leading European publisher is now in the midst of integrating Kitaboo AR with its existing publishing workflow to keep the target audience engaged by adding interactive digital assets to its books.

As for PageMajik, there is a built-in module within its CMS to create AR content to go alongside standard print content. “Readers can scan and identify the content in a book using an app to bring up related content, which can include anything from fun videos and animation for children’s books, to maps and photographs for travel guides, to data and diagrams for medical texts,” says CEO Ashok Giri. “Since the core of PageMajik is a secure and easily navigable online content repository, supplementary resources related to a concept can be stored, accessed, and updated, ensuring that it remains relevant.”

For now, the AR/VR segment is hampered by the lack of techno-creativity and of a standard open platform, and by unfixed technicalities, says Madhu Rajamani, executive v-p at DiacriTech. “But we see the promising use cases that are directly connected to business operations and profits, and in fact, we started exploring this segment a few years back,” Rajamani says. “Today, we have established our own brand, Immersive Gaze, to focus on interactive technology solutions, and two major projects—an AR-based library for an American university client and another using HoloLens MR for the health-care sector—have proven our expertise in the field.”

The educational segment “will focus on content that is immersive and interactive, and the way we interrelate with data will make a huge difference,” Rajamani says. “For publishers that have their printed books and digital assets in place, we can offer AR to add value to the print content by developing apps that augment the interactive experience.” One partnership with an international publisher in India illustrates this point: the DiacriTech team developed a VR experience based on selected modules of the publisher’s science books to showcase to private schools, and the success of this techno-commercial initiative has given the publisher a major edge in the highly competitive field.

Showcasing the Expertise

One highly interactive AR app for a major American educational publisher, for instance, illustrates Integra Software Services’ expertise in the segment. The end-to-end app development, aimed at smartphones and tablets, is a supplement for various human anatomy books for both school and higher education segments. “There are interactive 3-D models that allow students to zoom in, zoom out, rotate, and check out the cross sections,” says company founder and CEO Sriram Subramanya, whose company started building its AR/VR capabilities in 2014. “The 3-D animations explain the various parts and functions of the anatomy,” Subramanya says, “while interactive practice components and assessments track student understanding of the content.”

Improved learning outcomes through AR technology are the main goal of the app, Subramanya says. “With this app, students have the ability to visualize and manipulate things that they cannot see in the real world and to repeat the learning process as many times as needed in a risk-free environment. We also implemented the required accessibility standards and ensured that users can access this AR app without any challenges.”

Then there was one particular VR project for a higher education segment that required the Integra team to capture 360-degree video footage of the Taj Mahal using advanced technologies. “The end product is very engaging, with animations that explain the architecture and history of this world wonder,” Subramanya says. The interactive videos will be hosted in an LMS for handheld devices, with a VR version for use with Google Cardboard and Daydream, and Oculus Go.

For Lumina Datamatics, it was one proof of concept (POC) for one of the world’s largest educational content, technology, and services companies that kick-started its foray into the AR world. “This POC helps automobile workers identify components in a four-cylinder engine and encourages them to disassemble and reassemble it,” says Vidur Bhogilal, vice chairman of Lumina Datamatics. “It allows the user to experiment on a virtual engine without the risk of injury or of causing costly damage to an actual component.”

The finished visual assets were imported into Unity3D, a popular rapid game/simulation development tool that can be deployed to desktops, mobile devices, and gaming consoles simultaneously. “Using ARKit and ARCore frameworks in Unity3D, we were able to leverage the latest technology to bring these reconstructed assets to life,” Bhogilal says. “Once the application was thoroughly vetted, it was deployed to the Apple and Google App stores. The metadata is now tracked around the event triggers in these apps so that we can better understand how they are being used in the learning process.”

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