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

6/21/11Follow @bvbigelow

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virtual residents inside a dollhouse or a model built of Legos.

Media and Advertising: Some of the most powerful applications of AR appear to lie in creating an entirely new form of interactive advertising, in which magazine ads, store displays, and product packaging comes to life for users looking through their smartphone cameras. Wright demonstrated a women’s clothing ad that enables the user to change the colors of the model’s ensemble, zoom in for close-ups, and get a 360-degree-view of the product. In another example, aiming an AR-capable smartphone at a DVD package for the film “Kung Fu Panda” enables the viewer to watch a 3-D trailer for the sequel “Kung Fu Panda 2″ in theaters now.

“What it’s doing is turning a physical surface, which can be product packaging or print advertising, into a stage,” Wright says. “When we show this to marketing agencies, they get extremely excited by the potential.”

At the AR Summit in London last week, AcrossAir, an AR developer based in London and New York, showed off its AR-based ads for Condé Nast Traveler, Europe’s UEFA soccer organization, and beermaker Stella Artois, according to The Guardian.

Educational and Instructional: Qualcomm also sees opportunities for AR applications that revisit the idea of virtual schematics for aircraft maintenance—making the smartphone a see-through user manual for how to use something, how to assemble a new product, or how to fix it. Such applications could become a godsend for the technophobic by overlaying simple user instructions on the viewfinder image on top of the often complex, confusing, or intimidating controls of consumer electronics products, from a cable TV set top box to the dashboard of a contemporary luxury sedan.

By aiming an AR-enabled smartphone at the workplace speakerphone, for example, Wright says, “Up comes the user manual and I say ‘conference call,’ and it draws arrows on the buttons I need to push, and the order that I need to push them. That makes a ton of sense.”

Facial Recognition and Social Networking: While AR technology can now recognize certain images on printed materials, Qualcomm sees expanded opportunities as the technology improves. “The more that our computer vision can see, the more interactive experiences we can put into the environment,” Wright says. “So we want to detect and recognize faces for example—not so that you can point your phone and see [someone's] criminal history. But maybe so we can do a kid’s game to recognize mom and dad and put funny costumes on them, or something like that.”

Facial recognition in a smartphone also would be a useful way for politicians and corporate executives to remember the names of people whose names don’t spring immediately to mind—or for security guards to identify someone who is violating their access privileges.

Navigation and Discovery: One concept that Qualcomm is exploring is similar to Google Goggles, technology that enables users to snap a photo and then ask “what is it?” or “where can I buy it?”

AR applications in navigation would enable users to literally follow a yellow brick road from one location to another, or enable tourists in a foreign country to point their cell phones at street signs, restaurant menus, or grocery stores and see a translation on the view screen.

“There are things like text recognition that we are actively looking for doing things like sign recognition or translation,” Wright says. “There are a lot of things you can do when you can recognize text.”

The potential opportunities for augmented reality might appear endless. But more importantly many of the applications seem really practical and useful. Wright wouldn’t say how much Qualcomm is spending on AR, or how many employees are working in AR research and development. But he says, “As far as I know, we have the largest R&D effort in augmented reality in the world. We are actually doing this out of our San Diego operation, we’re doing it in our Vienna office, and we have efforts in Cambridge, China, India, and Korea. We have quite the R&D organization.”

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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  • Jeff Crusey

    This is why I miss San Diego! Forget the beaches, sun, beautiful people….fml

  • http://www.previewlabs.com Bernard François

    Interesting article!

    I’m also waiting for a first killer app (or game) to make everyone enjoy this technology. I feel there’s a huge potential in there, but someone will need to come up with the right idea for a game or app to be really successful.

    With PreviewLabs – a company specialized in rapid prototyping for video games, we’re also following this (and any other cutting edge technology) very closely.

    We had a look at Qualcomm’s AR technology for Android in Unity3D a few months ago, and posted a summary of our findings about it today on our blog:
    http://www.previewlabs.com/augmented-reality-our-findings/

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