Qualcomm Claims Leadership in Augmented Reality, Sees Huge Potential on Its View Screen

6/21/11Follow @bvbigelow

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for cool new AR apps and differentiating the performance of its chips in the marketplace, he says.

In the global competition for making wireless chips, which includes Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Samsung, Apple, and Intel, Wright says, “We are not aware of any other silicon provider that has a comparable offering. This is really an area where Qualcomm invested early.”

Of course, Google, Microsoft, and a number of other tech companies have related efforts in AR software. A number of others such as metaio, based in Munich, Germany, and San Francisco; Amsterdam-based Layar, and Salzburg, Austria’s Wikitude also have been developing mobile AR browsers.

“This is really at the leading edge of innovation for us,” Wright adds. “We’re taking a leadership position by developing a new technology that we’re bringing to market, and that app developers can take and develop a whole new set of applications.”

What kind of applications? Wright listed five categories where Qualcomm has been encouraging development:

Gaming and Play: As a vision-based technology, AR needs to recognize an image with fixed grid markers so it can orient the virtual imagery in space. As a result, Wright says developers can take Qualcomm’s AR technology and make just about any 3-D game developed for computers or video consoles play virtually on an ordinary game board, wall, cereal box, or other printed surface. The technology, Wright explains, “knows about a bunch of tiny feature points that are defined by high variance in contrast, and it’s the collection and distribution of those points that uniquely identifies this image. So then, when the application starts looking for images, it uses that same process to try to find all those little points, and it compares them to all the little points that the application knows about, and says ‘Aha!’ I’ve found it.”

Qualcomm sees opportunities for a variety of games, from tactile manipulations such as a virtual Rubik’s Cubic to AR versions of FarmVille and other popular Facebook games.

To stimulate the market, Qualcomm launched an Augmented Reality Developer Challenge last year, offering a $125,000 first prize, $50,000 second prize, and $25,000 third prize for third-party app developers to create new games, educational applications, and other concepts. When the deadline arrived three months later, Wright said Qualcomm had received 54 submissions from 22 countries. (The top prize went to “Paparazzi,” a game in which players use their smartphone camera to try to snap photos of an animated virtual celebrity, who bears a resemblance to actor Sean Penn. As the game proceeds, the character gets increasingly irate, and tries to “break” the player’s camera.)

By using reference points taken from any image, Wright says AR also can be used to enhance the play of game pieces on a conventional game board, like Monopoly, or to create … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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