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What Arnie and Terminator 2 Can Teach Us About Contemporary AR



INFLUENCER: Rosh Singh on three major facets for making today’s immersive experiences truly incredible

What Arnie and Terminator 2 Can Teach Us About Contemporary AR

A red tinged Heads-Up Display (HUD) scans a dive-bar car park in rural America. Scan mode ‘03958 ACQUIRE TRANSPORT’. Object recognition isolates and analyses various modes of transports before locking onto Harley-Davidson motorcycles: ‘CRITERIA MATCH: 97’. Moving inside the bar, the HUD scans for a match amongst the bar’s ‘colourful’ clientele, settling on a leather clad older gentleman. A giant naked Austrian bodybuilder then commands: “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.” 

This is not just the opening of 1991’s powerhouse film, Terminator 2. Thanks to the HUD presenting scan results as a digital layer over Arnie’s surroundings, it’s also one of our first introductions to what we now call Augmented Reality (AR). 

This opening scene has been etched in my memory for nearly 30 years. Not just because of its intense action and my utter disbelief that Arnie is in fact the same species as me, but mostly from how the film’s imagined technology was so prescient. 

Re-watching the film as an adult who works in the exhilarating business of creating otherworldly immersive experiences, it dawned on me that the opening 60-seconds of Terminator 2 lay bare the three major facets for making today’s immersive experiences truly incredible:


AR experiences need to engender a sense of magic. AR should be a ticket that money can’t buy. The technology should create an otherworldly experience that brings us closer to the unbelievable and unachievable. This is what immersive does best: it should be a window into a new world or offer a completely new perspective on the world we know. 

In the same way that Arnie's AR-enabled eyes blew my mind as a nipper, today’s AR really does have the ability to deliver these types of experiences to the masses. 

In its most basic form, AR filters for social platforms prove that a simple yet magical execution (rainbow vomit, anyone?) can resonate strongly, with Snap alone claiming 130-million daily users of their filters. But at it’s most sophisticated, AR allows you to watch a Dire Wolf prowl your kitchen counter or recreate the moon landing from your back garden. Truly magical experiences that are unachievable in the real-world. 


No technology can achieve critical adoption without first providing utility. And AR is no different. AR experiences need to be additive to our lives, they need to provide value to us in some way. 

Just as the Terminator used his HUD to scan the parking-lot, analyse his surroundings and ultimately aid his decision making, AR experiences need to be built in a way that adds an informational layer to the world to help us live better, happier and healthier lives. Google’s AR navigation guide, for example, is an utter masterstroke in providing utility. 

By combining AR with a known behaviour (that we are always looking at our f*cking ph*nes) AR is embedded within Google Maps so that a digital map can be laid over real world surroundings, as captured by a smartphone camera, to make user orientation so much easier. Simple + useful = devastatingly effective. 


As saliently illustrated by the fact that Terminator 2’s thrilling opening has stuck with me since the early '90s, AR has the potential to create incredibly memorable experiences. Experiences so striking, arresting and unique that they embed themselves into our long-term memory. 

The power of bold, distinctive experiences is that they stay with us for a disproportionate amount of time relative to how long we actually engage with them. From augmented catwalks to ageing filters via virtual make-up try-ons, AR creates experiences that last. 

So while we wait for the gap between science fiction and science fact to narrow, we should heed Arnie’s lessons and create AR experiences that are magical, useful and memorable.  

Rosh Singh is MD at UNIT9

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UNIT9 London, Wed, 11 Mar 2020 16:16:41 GMT