Qualcomm boosts augmented reality technology

The new SDK improves performance and allows developers to create visual affects

Qualcomm has released a version of its development kit for augmented reality apps, which from now on will be marketed under the Vuforia brand name.

Augmented reality allows computer-generated content to be superimposed over a live camera view of the real world, according to Qualcomm. There are different ways to do this but Qualcomm's technology relies on image detection.

The chip maker entered the market in 2010, and last year it released the first version of the Qualcomm Augmented Reality SDK (software development kit).

"Developers really adopted that name, and it stuck. But we have realized that for broader adoption, including education consumers and everyone else, we needed a nicer name, so that is how Vuforia came about," said Roy Ashok, senior manager business development.

Along with the new name, Qualcomm also announced version 1.5 of its SDK for Android and iOS. The Vuforia SDK 1.5 is compatible with devices running on Android 2.2 and above, as well as the iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and the fourth generation of the iPod touch, running iOS 4 or newer versions of Apple's OS.

The upgraded SDK includes three important features, according to Ashok. The SDK limits the number of images that an application can identify to about 60. The only way to change those images in the previous version of the SDK was to upgrade the whole app. But with 1.5 that has been changed, and groups of images, which Qualcomm calls datasets, can be swapped in and out without having to upgrade the app, according to Ashok.

"For example, a magazine publisher can automatically change the dataset with every new issue. The change can also be triggered by a location or by the user," said Ashok.

The second thing Qualcomm did was to change how the image buffers are accessed, which allows developers to create customized visual effects, including a background that moves when users run a finger over the screen.

The new SDK also features enhancements that reduce jitter in the augmentations, speed up recovery from tracking failures, and the ability to detect images at steeper angles and track over longer distances.

At Mobile World Congress the company showed how users can aim their phone at an ad from Norwegian boot maker Viking, and see different models superimposed over the ad. It also showed the augmented reality version of Canadian retailer Moosejaw's catalog where the phone works as X-ray glasses, and allows the user to see the models in their underwear. Another company that uses Qualcomm's SDK is Blippar, whose app has been used in ad campaigns from Cadbury, Tesco, Nestle and Rolex.

Going forward, the company plans to add the ability to identify 3D objects and do cloud-based recognition, so the images would be stored in the cloud instead of on the phone, which would increase the number that can be identified.

Today, about 20,000 developers use Qualcomm's SDK, and they have developed over 350 applications. But Ashok is convinced those numbers will increase.

"I think we are at an inflection point. Big brands are running campaigns, and not just once, which shows that there is real value," he said.

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