Mobile poised to take augmented reality mainstream
Augmented reality (AR), or digital information overlaid on the physical world, has begun to make an impact on mobile applications, primarily games and location-based services, in the past year. The technology, while still clunky and hard to monetize today, is slated by many to take mobile by storm in 2010. One startup in particular is looking toward this intersection of physical and digital to create more than just entertaining apps. QderoPateo, Latin for "a hope that is soon to be revealed," is aiming to change peoples' lives through their mobile phones.
A traveler, for example, could use AR to identify a coffee shop, learn its specials, WiFi options, menu, prices and promotions. A virtual travel agent — in the form of a 3D avatar — would also provide a personal recommendation on which coffee shop to choose in a given area. Or a couple that elopes to Las Vegas could use AR to send a message via Facebook to their friends and family and prompt them to join them at the church in Vegas through 3D avatars. They could all see what's taking place on the originator's device and even participate in the ceremony. These are just two facets of the world envisioned by Qdero co-founders Matt Gaines and Steve Chao.
"Our focus is mobile augmented reality as a platform that integrates all the facets of where people work, play and live," Gaines said. "Augmented reality now is really not augmented, but overlaid imagery. When we talk about the word to augment, we are talking about to change. Our focus is changing environments relative to where consumers are in the world and what they can do."
Augmented reality has been around for more than 15 years in industries such as industrial automation, theme parks and online marketing, but it has yet to make a real dent on mobile phones. The technology requires a phone with a camera, GPS, digital compass, broadband connectivity and accelerometer — a combination that has only recently started to emerge. According to analyst firm Juniper Research, the first phone to include all these features was the HTC Dream, followed by the Nokia N97 and Apple's iPhone 3G S.
In a report on AR, Juniper defined the technology as utilizing apps and browsers with layers of metadata about physical objects that have been geotagged. The app can identify the user's location through the GPS and discern which way they are facing through the digital compass. These two factors combined indicate what the user is viewing and if said object or location has been geotagged, detected through a 2D barcode or markerless tracking/image recognition. The digital overlay is then imposed and seen through the camera viewfinder and can take the user to a Web site, such as YouTube or Flickr for more information.
There are around 20 AR apps on the market today — with additional use cases including virtual business cards, virtual presentations or augmented ID technology to create virtual information objects associated with an individual, similar to what user interface company The Astonishing Tribe has developed. The most well-known project underway is Google Goggles. But whereas Google's software takes a picture of the environment to search the Web for information, Gaines said Qdero is focused on actually changing what the user is viewing. "We are going to change the way people experience the world not through wizardry or a gimmick but through real-world interaction," he said.
Qdero's markerless technology requires no physical tags or special embedded elements within a physical object in order for the software to recognize and identify it. Using proprietary SenseEngine technology, the software recognizes a user's environment spontaneously through ambient awareness, Gaines said. Qdero's AR platform delivers a mixture of real and virtual interactive characters.
Qdero has developed its own AR-enabled mobile device, but Gaines recognizes that for the AR world he envisions, more new handsets will have to be manufactured. Juniper Research expects 350 million new handsets to be AR-enabled by 2014, at which time mobile AR services could reach $732 million in revenues, up from less than $2 million forecasted for 2010.
Qdero plans to launch an AR entertainment platform, SpaceShow, in May, as well as a developer Web site this month. It is also involved with the launch of The Institute of Augmented and Articulated Urban Planning, an organization that will bring together AR professionals and pioneers to expand the technology, in early 2010. The company is also starting with a direct-to-consumer platform called World Lens to demonstrate the initial thrust of what AR can do. Gaines said the market is in the education stage now, but his company plans to slowly introduce new things to show what is possible, as well as open up marketing opportunities through AR for businesses and brands.
"We are building a platform that is open for all APIs to use their best skill sets to develop other things consumers can commercially use," Gaines said. This includes opening up AR to wireless operators to enable new experiences for their customers and to handset manufacturers to build the appropriate devices, he added.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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