You have heard me talk about our ongoing relationship with metaio to make mobile Augmented Reality (MAR) part of your daily life. To kick of 2012, we asked Peter Meier, CTO of metaio, to tell us what excites him about the future of Augment Reality. Below are his words:
I first experienced Augmented Reality during a technology event at my university in 2000. I saw a white piece of cardboard, filmed with a webcam. On a screen, the camera image and a virtual cube appeared on top of the cardboard. The virtual world became a natural part of the real world, not part of a Hollywood movie, but my real surroundings. Simply by turning the cardboard, I was able to look at the virtual cube from all sides. It was a very simple demo, but it displayed two major values of AR: easy interaction and fascination.
In 2003 we started metaio, a company with the vision to develop AR technology in order to make “the digital a natural experience”. A few years later, we worked with Lego to build one of the most successful AR applications so far. By showing a Lego box to a camera-equipped screen, visitors can see what’s inside the box as an animated 3D model. They can rotate the box and look at the model from all sides – it fascinates people and everyone (regardless of age) can naturally interact with the 3D animation by rotating the box. In addition, the third major advantage of AR is employed: easy access to information. Visitors don’t have to tell the system which box they want to learn about. The system automatically detects the box and displays the information accordingly.
Figure 1 The lego digital box shows the potential of AR as a user interface.
In recent years mobile Augmented Reality was on the rise, sparked by new smartphones equipped with large screens, front-facing cameras and a set of sensors to roughly measure position and orientation. A large audience could be addressed and users were, as always, fascinated by AR. Suddenly, there was a very intuitive way of accessing digital information about places surrounding them. AR made the information “in the cloud” visible and graspable. I took the picture below, when visiting Rome, using our AR-browser junaio and the Wikipedia channel. Wherever you go, AR helps to find out more, just by pointing at a building.
Figure 2 AR should provide easy to understand information, quickly and in a beautiful way.
Everything should be great! We have found a user-interface technology that provides great value. It makes accessing information easier and the information is displayed in a more understandable and fascinating way. But looking at the Gartner Hype Cycle 2011, Augmented Reality is at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.”
So what’s the problem?
Below we can see a picture I took in Amsterdam using the same channel standing at “Dam Square” and looking at the “Royal Palace of Amsterdam”. There were two signs that made sense to me. Three signs did not interest me, but rather confused me. Also, the sign, indicating the Royal Palace, was shifted to the left, while it should clearly be pointing at the building with the tower in the center of the image.
Figure 3 Often, users are confronted with too much information and imprecise location indications.
Problems like imprecise positioning and missing content filters, give users experiences that are often less useful than a standard map or a list of nearby places. AR experiences that are not useful retain only the original visual fascination, which is why some people now see it as a “gimmick”.
Even though usefulness of today’s mobile AR experiences is sometimes questionable, personally, I am not worried. Compared to what AR was like in 2003, when metaio was founded, the technology and the content ecosystem have seen enormous improvements. The advances are accelerating because more potent players get involved.
According to the German patent office, the number of international patent publications containing the word “Augmented Reality” has reached 1345, of which over 25% have been published in 2011. The graph below of published patent publications is a pretty good indication on the growing number of people working in the space.
Figure 4 Number of new international patent publications per year, containing “Augmented Reality” (www.depatis.net).
Many different partners have to collaborate in order to build an ecosystem that drives AR. There are thousands of developers engaged on our free and open AR platform “junaio” and developing apps using our free metaio mobile SDK. Media partners and big brands are investing in AR content. In Germany over 10 million AR-enabled magazines are published every month.
To improve the low level technology, the chipset industry now has a vital role. Essentially, AR needs to “see” as well as humans do. It has to be able to cope with dynamic lighting conditions, noise and uncertainty in order to truly enhance the users’ perception of reality. AR algorithms have already reached a high level of complexity and even more computer vision mechanisms have to be added. Without proper hardware support, mobile AR will not reach a satisfactory level of robustness, which is needed in order to become a widely used user interface.
As developers of the latest AR technologies, we are very happy to see how ST-Ericsson takes AR very serious and how fruitful our technical collaboration has become. Further steps are being made in VENTURI, a European research project, which brings together all aspects of a healthy AR ecosystem. Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institute and INRIA as renowned research institutes, STMicroelectronics providing sensor and camera know-how, ST-Ericsson, providing their latest smartphone chipsets, metaio delivering the software platform, e-Diam Sistemas as a content partner and Sony Ericsson as the OEM.
Together, we can – and will – take AR to the next level.
We thank Peter for his insights and are excited to continue working with metaio in 2012 and beyond!