Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Can iPhone et al Drag Augmented Reality Into Non-Augmented Reality?

I’ve been pitching augmented reality apps in startup circles for a few years now, so it was exciting to see the AR startup crop grab some press coverage this week (VentureBeat and more VentureBeat and …even SF ABC 7).

With the iPhone hardware suite (and comparable devices like the Android and Pre), there’s no shortage of hardware for the core AR tasks:

  • capture decent-resolution images
  • recognize “target” areas in images
  • contextualize the targets if necessary, by adding GPS data, solid-state compass data, and/or accelerometer (angle) data
  • lookup augmentation data suitable to the target and the end-user via suitable web services
  • employ “billboarding” or 3D rendering to composite a representation of the augmentation data on top of the target
  • repeat as fast as possible without draining the battery (yeah, right)

Now for part two of the plan: this facility needs to run through a cool looking visor (a.k.a. "head-mounted display” or HMD). And neither the $6,000+ price tag nor the Silence-of-the-Lambs-night-vision look is appealing on these traditional high-tech units.

Happily, there are mass-market headsets designed for the gaming or personal entertainment market which are almost ready to go. A couple are even within striking distance of cool factor. Maybe an Apple logo would be enough to do it, at least for the Bay Area.

Even better, leaders such as Vuzix recognize the need to provide video and accelerometer data from the POV of the headset (vastly reducing the amount of computation needed contextualize the image). They appear to be planning these capabilities as optional clip-on modules to their newest “Fall ‘09” model visor.

Note the word “planning.”

Like smartphones themselves, we’ve been here before … a lot of times. The iPhone was easily the industry’s 10th attempt at a commodity handheld computer, so it’s not like the writing is on the wall. Unless it’s AR writing:


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