6 ways Augmented Reality could change Scientific Communication
Author: Sunaina Singh
My 8-year-old son “experienced” his first augmented book (WOW! Animals, see a 3D popup from the book in the image below) last year, long before I even picked up my first (Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, see 3D popups below). His exposure to these augmented reality (AR)-aided visual experiences before mine is a reminder of the generation divide between Generation Alpha and my millennial lot. For most millennials and all of the current Generation Alpha, accessing digital layers over everyday objects is intuitive, calling for education and businesses to cater to these new perception patterns.
Many children’s books are harnessing AR as an innovative way to hook young readers. Here, you see a fruit bat “come to life” from the print book WOW! Animals (DEVAR Books) using the free DEVAR app.
Animated characters pop up when a smartphone installed with Fink’s Metaverse app is hovered over images in the book (or Kindle version, as seen in these images) Charlie Fink’s Metaverse – An AR Enabled Guide to AR & VR. These popup animations serve to engage non-technical readers while telling the story of AR.
The definition of AR varies, with some definitions focused on the technological means and tools used to create AR environment, and others based on the characteristics of these environments. PwC defines AR as a “live view overlaid with information.” Unlike virtual reality (VR), which creates its own cyber environment, AR adds to the existing world as it is. AR involves the overlaying of sound, video, graphics, haptic sensory inputs, or GPS location data onto the real world to enhance one’s experience.
Besides augmented books and toys, gaming, and entertainment, the fields that stand to be hugely impacted by AR are healthcare (neurotechnology, medical training) and education (AR or VR teaching tools). Irrespective of the type of organization or business, customers and competitors are becoming more curious and interested in this technology. Scholarly publishers and academic societies work closely with researchers, universities, and various research institutions. Should publishers and societies get their AR game on?
Six Ways Publishers and Societies May Benefit from AR Technologies
1. Changes in content workflows: Breaking the constraints of two-dimensional visuals
Multimedia is already a part of the scientific manuscript, with publishers There is usually a restriction on figure numbers in some journals, and videos cannot be viewed in print format. However, AR can pull up a 3D animated rendering upon scanning an image with a phone app. In this way, additional layers or features of the image can be unpeeled for a vivid, immersive visual experience.
According to one estimate, scientists spend 21% of their time making data visualizations. Immersive options provided by AR can help convey complex and abstract concepts in an easy and fun manner. Some apps are entering the space of scholarly communication to overcome the rigidity of fixed formats or constraints of the 2D printed page or screen.
A recent example of a scientific data presentation app using AR to add 3D features to enhance scientific communication is Schol-AR. This app made its first appearance on the cover of the journal NeuroImage, which featured a study on a new noninvasive method for closely visualizing minute blood vessels of the brain. The image viewed through the Schol-AR app lets one appreciate various physical aspects of these small brain vessels. What’s more, users can manually enlarge, rotate, and explore these small structures realistically. Schol-AR allows users to see augmented images on scientific journals and other publications. While the app started with neuroscience augmentations, it will be applicable to other fields like mathematics and archaeology.
1.2 APD AR Holistic Review App
To overcome the limitations of viewing stereoscopic images, AR may be applied for the holistic viewing of antibodies. Chan et al. recently showed how with the APD AR holistic review app, images of the antibodies become interactive, allowing a user to zoom in and out, rotate, change perspective by moving the phone or target image.
Thus, researchers can enrich scientific publications using AR to better represent complicated scientific concepts, particularly those better understood by 3D visualization, such as in biochemistry, geometry, and archaeology.
2. Promotion and Marketing: A Captivating Way to Showcase a Brand
According to Scobel and Israel , with AR, “we learn and communicate faster, more enjoyably and with deeper understanding than has ever been possible.” Brands are beginning to use AR to build, enhance, and showcase the brand itself. Such experiences provide a lasting impression and memory of the brand and the products. This highlights the important role of AR in corporate communication. Corporate communication can leverage AR via data visualization, emotional storytelling, and conveying an effective message. Some ways these can be achieved are as follows.
2.1 Apps for consumer engagement
Layar, now part of the BlippAR group, pioneered interactive print technology. Layar allows users to enhance print items with interactive content, including video messages, social media links, photo slideshows, music clips etc., bringing them to life, so to speak. Some magazine and news publishers have used AR to direct readers to online videos, retail sites, and more. When readers to hold their phone (installed with apps like Layar) in front of a printed page, they can access extra content on their handset.
2.2 Translation Apps
There are several translation apps out there today, offering exciting features from real-time conversation translations to pulling text from a signages using a phone camera. Translate Now has an AR translation feature that pulls translations in real-time. AR-based translation features will make seamless and effortless communication a reality.
Web-based AR can help project a brand in an engaging and novel way, helping it to stand out amongst competitors and communicate directly with the target audience with interactive content. Through WebAR, customers can get a clear brand message and visualize products and services through dynamic digital services, without having to be saddled with apps on their handsets.
3. Immersive Lab Simulations: Replicating and Reproducing Findings
The progress of science is underpinned by constant critical assessment of the validity of scientific claims made and conclusions drawn by scientists. Scientists should be able to follow the steps described in published work and obtain similar results. While some platforms like Labster and Praxilabs provide hyper-realistic lab equipment and simulated environments for educational purposes, this might be extended to the scientific workflow of researchers trying to replicate previous experiments. Immersive lab simulations might have implications in allowing researchers to replicate findings rapidly, thereby addressing the “replication crisis” and promoting integrity and open science.
4. Collaborative Science: Sharing Data in Real Time
Real-time data sharing and collaboration can have an enormous impact on managing public health crises (the COVID-19 pandemic being the most relatable scenario in recent memory). AR can meet users’ needs for real-time digital representation of information by depicting this information in users’ physical environment. Real-time access to rapidly flowing data at the right time and in the relevant space would greatly benefit collaborative research projects at a global scale. For instance, agronomy and climate science studies generate multidimensional datasets made up of thousands of data layers that are captured weekly or daily in dynamic outdoor environments. Further, global genome sequencing projects are also characterized by dynamic and adaptive data. Large-scale studies of this nature could benefit from AR environments that support collaborative visualization and sharing in an engaging and immersive manner.
5. Virtual conferences: Why Physical Conferences Might Become Obsolete
A collaborative and interactive environment improves and stimulates communication. Virtual conferencing to cut travel costs or obviate travel altogether is no longer a new concept, predating the new normal of isolation and distancing. However, making the experience more immersive, or providing a sense of shared space opens up new dimensions (quite literally!) for revolutionizing the experience. For instance, VirBELA can allow employees to attend meetings and share documents. VR can provide room-scale and co-presence for organizing and staging virtual events, onboarding, and training.
The academic conference as we know it might take on a virtual flavor in coming years, with 2D posters being replaced by 3D animations or holographics!
6. Blurring the Lines Between Workflows: Changing Learning Paradigms
The human brain is designed to retain visual information much better than written words. Doing things instead of reading, listening about them, or watching someone do them improves memory retention. In fact, AR has been found to be three times more memorable compared to traditional non-AR media. AR can help with hands-on skills like surgery, equipment assembly, machine maintenance, etc., which have a steep learning curve. AR even enables learners to experience and test the skills that they learn.
AR will alter the learning framework by allowing a convergence of delineated activities such as training, communications, and knowledge management. In an AR-powered world, people will interact or virtually collaborate in simulated environments, streamlining communication and skill development, effectively blending training and knowledge sharing. Together, these trends will result in novel learning experiences, where collaboration, skill acquisition, and knowledge access intermingle.
Futurists rightly predicted that social media would transform businesses and communication [1, 2]. Close on the heels of those innovations came Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI). We are entering a realm of mixed reality technologies, and AI and will power this transformation. Communicators should be open to exploring the potential of these innovations to connect with larger audiences. Where attention is a commodity, maximizing engagement and immersion benefits the relevant stakeholders.
At the same time, adopters should be cautious about a few things. Communicators and marketers need to tread the fine line between utility and superfluousness and avoid introducing features that seem gimmicky and expendable (think on the lines of what can AR provide that a simple video cannot?).
A potential limitation in the adoption of AR is the need to download multiple apps onto a device. Some apps take up a lot of space and are battery draining. No researcher would want her phone loaded with myriad apps, one for each publisher! A possible solution would be to explore app-free AR (WebAR in a browser or on social media) and easy-to-use features that most users are comfortable with.
Finally, as a communicator, I wonder if such technologies might truly “use words less and visual media more” . Will AR in scholarly communication extend or replace the “Gutenberg Galaxy”? Looking back, multimedia CD-ROM encyclopedias of the 1980s (with hyperlinked text and video and audio clips) had a short-lived time in the sun and rapidly gave way to online encyclopedias. However, this obsoleteness is unlikely for AR apps, which are now becoming part of the ecosystem facilitated by AI and IoT. If anything, diverse features of extended reality will revitalize print and digital media by making them increasingly interactive.
Scholarly communication should continue to evolve, promoting flexibility and adopting innovations, while retaining cost effectiveness. In the coming years, we can expect hands-free, latency-free, and other innovations to bring us closer to the ubiquitous adoption of AR/VR in various spheres of life.
Reach out to our team of science communicators and digital specialists on firstname.lastname@example.org to explore how you can board the AR train today!
 Charlie Fink (2018). Charlie Fink’s Metaverse – An AR Enabled Guide to AR & VR.
 Robert Scoble & Shel Israel (2016). The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything.