New Ways to Navigate the World

navigate the world through wearable technologySitting in front of a computer to interact with  technology is so old-fashioned.  Today’s technology is wearable, movable, adaptable and permeating everything we do.  It can solve old as well as new challenges.

For instance, activity trackers and other mobile tools connected through wi-fi, like FitBit, can help us reach goals like losing weight or getting in shape.  I wear a FitBit every day and try to reach 10,000 steps daily. Other wearable devices monitor bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure, and some can detect changes in indoor air quality.  We are moving into a new realm of wearable technology that has great promise for making us more efficient and healthier.

It’s similar with “Augmented Reality,” a phrase you may not be familiar with –though you might already be using the technology.  Augmented Reality (AR) is a way of interacting with the physical world, aided and enhanced by computer-generated data and visuals.  With AR, real and virtual objects coexist and interact with one another.

One example is Google Glass, the wearable technology that lets users, through a pair of eyeglasses, interact with their surroundings.  Users can share what they’re looking at with others contemporaneously, pull up data like temperatures or flights, or immediately translate their voice into another language.

“With advances in mobile technology and an increasing volume of digital data at our fingertips, AR is positioned to serve as a valuable asset in helping us make complex, real-time decisions more quickly and effectively,” said Deloitte Consulting in its new report, “Augmented government: Transforming government services through augmented reality.”

The Deloitte report discusses how government has been leading the way in developing and adopting AR, which, while still an emerging field, is expected to have revenues of $5.2 billion by 2016.  With the ability to impact situations as diverse as battlefield strategy, transportation and border security, and emergency management, AR is poised to become an everyday tool to help us interact with the world around us.

These developments in wearable technologies and augmented reality are converging. For instance, the U.S. Army is currently testing an exoskeleton to help soldiers transport materials across difficult terrain, a technology that also has commercial implications for business and government.  Several companies have developed similar exoskeletons to help those paralyzed from the waist down to walk again.   And the expectation is that such wearable technology will become more integrated with the human body, as advances in miniaturization allow us to use other parts of our bodies, or even our thoughts, to navigate the physical world.

Interestingly, AR also allows us to impact online environments.  Second Life is an online 3-D world in which users create avatars that let them experience real and imagined situations, places and people.  Second Life’s 36 million “residents” provide user-generated content that creates and impacts the physical space they inhabit.

Not too long ago, wearable technology and augmented reality would have been called science fiction, but these solutions can address real agency mission challenges.   These technologies are evolving fast, and smart leaders are already considering possible applications as we move toward a smarter, more innovative government.