What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
This document is a quick introduction to Augmented Reality technologies and how you can use it in your business.
At its simplest Augmented Reality (or AR) superimposes computer-generated images over the user’s view of the real world. However to get interesting results AR relies on complex algorithms that analyse video to identify and locate objects in real-time.
Augmented Reality content can be text, pictures, videos, audio and even full 3D animations. You can also embed web links or trigger events.
AR is commonly experienced via a mobile phone or tablet device. The camera on the back of the device is used to show a view of the world to the screen and then the application overlays graphics on top to provide related content, information or animations.
There a number of wearable devices coming into the market over the next few years, the most well- known of which is Microsoft’s Hololens glasses which was demo’d recently playing Minecraft and scheduled for previews in 2016.
AR can also be used in a “mirror” mode – this is using a fixed display screen with a web camera attached so that the user see themselves in context with the augment content. Lego store uses this to show shoppers what inside their boxes in a really great way.
Why use AR?
There are a number of cases in which AR can be used, but they can be roughly grouped into the following categories.
Often with exhibits and installations, there is a lot of information we wish to convey to the viewer but we can’t have it all in the space for either design or practical considerations.
Augmented Reality provides a great way for users to explore a space and uncover additional information within the context of the object. This might be a textual information that appears by the object, or could be related video or 3D models and animation.
Exploring Virtual Objects
AR is a great way to explore and communicate with clients about virtual objects. You can move around the virtual object in space to view it from different angles. You can also place the object within a physical context. For example showing furniture in a context of a living room, or an architecture model in place on a map.
Bringing packaging to life
Activating packaging can be both a fun and informative marketing tool when used correctly. Examples range from animating album covers, pop out animations for kids on cereal boxes, to football games made from McDonalds meal packs.
This provides consumers motivation to download your app and interact with your brand in a new exciting way.
4 Nice Examples
Here are a few examples of the more imaginative use-cases as to how we can use augmented reality.
1.Google Skymaps lets you look at the night sky in a whole new way. View the night sky through the app and it will show you the location of stars, planets and constellations updated in realtime.
2. IKEA released an AR app that lets you place virtual furniture in your own home. Working also in tandem with the printed catalogue you can scan selected pages to access the models.
3. ColAR Mix brings your child’s drawings to life in a magical way. It does this by scanning the special made colouring in drawings and applying the texture to the 3D animation.
4. Urbane is an application in which architects can use AR to developers how their new sites will look in the context of a map or in a meeting.
Building AR Apps
Despite the complexity of technology, building AR apps is relatively simple and quick thanks to available middleware technology that we integrate with. A very simple AR app can even be prototyped in a day. So the limit is really on how complex and engaging you want the content to be.
At Mbryonic, we use Unity which is an industry standard games technology that allows us to integrate visual effects, 3D graphics and animation and produce applications for PC, iOS and Android devices.
We have designers, 3D modellers and developers – so we can work in tandem with your organisation to provide the best result. We will provide a quote based on your requirements.
AR relies on being able to locate and identify real world objects or images. Computers are still not quite as good as humans at doing this so we need to help them a little. So in AR we teach the application about the targets we want them to identify. Here are the most common types.
Natural Image Targets
We can use ‘natural’ images that are may be found in the environment. We need to provide the application a picture of what to look for in advance, but its pretty flexible. However there are few caveats in selecting reliable natural image targets and these are:
- Detailed – image with lots of information in it, complicated shapes or busy.
- High contrast – combination of bright and dark regions
- Non-repetitive – no checkerboards, grass fields etc..
- Adequate size – the minimum size of the target should approximately a tenth of the distance of the target to camera distance. So 20 cm target is detectable up to about 2 meters away.
- Flat – avoid crinkled or curved surfaces or 3D shapes
- Matt – Glossy surfaces can be affected by shiny highlights from spotlights that hide the marker in the camera.
Each image that the app needs to search for takes processing time, so there is an upper limit before the app slows down. Typically its around 15-20 images on a mobile device.
It is possible to detect typography and for the AR application to recognise text say on a page. Again there are a few requirements that are:
- Font – Must be in a reasonably standard serif or san-serif font
- Brief – Best with short phrases (e.g. one or two words)
- Visible – Text keywords must fit within the camera view.
Frame markers are special images that look a little like QR codes but can have a user defined image inside. The advantage is that they require less processing power to identify by the software so we can have up to 512 of them and don’t require additional memory.
They have a specific visual identity with the advantage being that they are easily reliable, but at the cost that they are more visually obtrusive and less flexible.
With the latest version of the technology, you can track three-dimensional physical objects.
This is done by scanning the object with an object scanner application, so we would require a physical version of the object to analyse.
The advantage is that you can view the object from any angle and even overlay 3D graphic with the target object.
There are restrictions regards the type of object which are:
- Opaque – the object should be opaque
- Rigid – object doesn’t have moving parts
- Not shadowed – object is not overly affected by shadows
- Maximum of 20 object targets allowed
- More complex analysis so may be less reliable than other methods
- Complete – so not part of a larger item
The final alternative is to not use a visual marker at all but rely solely on beacons for location and the phone’s accelerometer for orientation. This has the obvious advantage of not requiring a physical marker. The disadvantage is that the tracking is not accurate – so objects will appear to float and not be part of the environment which spoils the illusion.
This can be a back-up plan for when markers really can’t be used.
We offer end-to-end design and development service for your AR and VR needs. This includes consultancy, design, development and deployment. We understand that these technologies are new for a lot of people and so we are happy to provide friendly advice on how to integrate its use into your brand in a free initial consultation. Contact us at info@mbryonic.
We’ll work to develop a concept and we will devise an amazing experience that your customers will want to talk about to their friends. We advise on costing and look after all aspects of production for you.
We are a highly experienced team that have a proven track record in delivering high quality apps and interactive content. We are also a small flexible organisation that keeps our costs low and allows us to provide a tailored personal experience. We are based in central East London.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. We’re the London Virtual Reality Experts so give us a nod if you need any clarifications.
Look forward to hear from you.