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Vision-based Augmented Reality

Since releasing a beta of Qualcomm’s vision-based mobile augmented reality (AR) tools and software development kit (SDK) last year, we have seen high levels of interest from a variety of industries. A free SDK and extension for Unity enables developers to easily create apps using AR on current Android smartphones with suitable cameras and processors.

Mobile augmented reality comes in two forms: compass/GPS-based, which is generally used for navigation and vision-based, which is the technique of using a phone’s camera, processor and display to recognize and augment what the camera sees. This latter form of mobile augmented reality is a new type of interactivity which lets developers, publishers, advertisers and others create surprising and compelling experiences which had until now not been possible.

An example is being able to walk into a toy store and see a doll house come to life by merely pointing your smartphone at the outside of the package.

Previous generations of vision-based AR products were non-mobile and required users to hold the image target (such as cards, consumer product packages and magazine covers) in front of the computer’s camera. Mobile AR lets users intuitively move the camera wherever they want to look on whatever image target they’ve chosen.

This mobile interactivity will let consumers conveniently see AR while walking around town, while shopping at the store, wandering through a theme park, standing in front of a poster, etc. Consumers can use smartphones to look at AR-enabled images and to do surprising new things.

Today people are using mobile AR to create new types of games, advertising, magazines, toys, books and, well, it might be said, experiences that defy labeling. How does one describe an advertisement for clothing where the user touches “buttons” printed on paper to change the color of the displayed clothes? Similarly, can we call it a pop-up book when the “pop-ups” are 3D animated graphical characters, which emerge from the printed illustrations?

Qualcomm’s Corporate Research and Development Group is leading in the effort to create new tools, middleware and promotions to enable mobile augmented reality. As such, in June 2010, we announced the Qualcomm AR Developer Challenge to encourage developers to create effective, entertaining and functional AR apps. The awards, totaling $200,000, will be announced next week!

The Qualcomm AR SDK became available in early October 2010 and developers from around the world submitted apps by January 14, 2011. These developers had less than four months to create fun and compelling apps based on the Qualcomm AR SDK. Check back on February 15 when we’ll reveal the winners - $125,000 for first place; $50,000 for second; and $25,000 for third. In the meantime, take a look at the video of some of the compelling AR apps we received.

Mobile technology continues to undergo rapid development, and as we’ve seen from the AR Challenge submissions, we expect to be pleasantly surprised by what developers and content producers do with this new form of mobile interactivity.

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