Augmented Reality: Extending Relationships Into the Afterlife

On the heels of attending an unveiling and live demo of the Microsoft HoloLens, we are excited to continue our multi-part series examining trends in technological innovation and what they may mean for the future of health. Read on as we imagine a world where augmented reality enables you to digitally extend relationships beyond life.

Woman standing at grave

In the future, your loved ones virtually live on forever. As you enter the cemetery wearing your headset, prerecorded messages created by your loved ones, present themselves as though they were standing in front of you. The videos can be person-specific or even timestamped, allowing certain information to be unlocked at a future date. The ability to converse with the deceased could also become a reality with new advances in voice and character synthesis technology. Your loved ones respond in real-time as you ask them questions and tell them about your day. Together, you reminisce about past memories, while your headset projects photos and plays videos from the past.

This could be your future. Bringing the deceased back to life using augmented reality isn’t necessarily a new concept. Perhaps one of the most stunning examples appeared at the 2012 Coachella music festival, where a life-like avatar of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur gave a live, original performance. Existing technology ultimately made Tupac’s appearance possible, using available pictures and video materials to generate a realistic 3D avatar.

Beyond Tupac’s virtual performance, a number of other available technologies point to a future where extending relationships into perpetuity is possible. One well-known example is Google Glass, though it never quite lived up to its potential. By superimposing images over actual surroundings, Glass performed tasks such as providing directions, running Internet searches and taking photos; however, given its similarity in function, consumers saw Glass as a redundant and more expensive ($1500) version of their handheld devices.

In 2014, Google unveiled Cardboard, an inexpensive virtual reality platform built from simple components. In sharp contrast to Glass, Cardboard is easy to use and doesn’t require a major financial commitment. Instead, Google gives away the list of parts and assembly instructions for free on its website, enabling users to DIY their own device from cardboard, cheap lenses and other readily available parts. Once Cardboard is assembled, users can insert their smartphones into the back of the device to create a 3D-like view.


Google isn’t the only company making strides in the virtual and augmented reality space. Microsoft’s HoloLens device enables the seamless integration of avatars and other virtual objects into real life. Whereas Google Cardboard requires a smartphone and blocks user surroundings, the HoloLens uses augmented technology to seamlessly integrate avatars and other virtual objects into real life. HoloLens, which will be available to developers in early 2016, recognizes users by their vocal communication, eye movement and hand gestures, facilitating interaction between virtual reality and the real world.

These existing technologies also lend themselves to a number of applications in healthcare, but we are only just beginning to scratch the surface. Augmented reality is already being used to teach healthcare providers, treat phobias, assist with rehabilitation, manage pain, help people living with disabilities and enable remote surgery. Just imagine a future where you could pick the best or most cost-effective surgeon, regardless of geographic location. Over time, augmented reality will democratize healthcare, ultimately resulting in a world where individuals from all corners of the globe have access to crucial health services.

Knowing that the possibilities are truly limitless, what is your future vision for augmented reality?

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