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May 23, 2019
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AR

Reality Check: The marvel of computer vision technology in today’s camera-based AR systems

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British science fiction writer, Sir Arther C. Clark, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Augmented reality has the potential to instill awe and wonder in us just as magic would. For the very first time in the history of computing, we now have the ability to blur the line between the physical world and the virtual world. AR promises to bring forth the dawn of a new creative economy, where digital media can be brought to life and given the ability to interact with the real world.

AR experiences can seem magical but what exactly is happening behind the curtain? To answer this, we must look at the three basic foundations of a camera-based AR system like our smartphone.

  1. How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization + Mapping)
  2. How do computers understand what the world looks like? (Geometry)
  3. How do computers understand the world as we do? (Semantics)

Part 1: How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization)

Mars Rover Curiosity taking a selfie on Mars. Source: https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/msl/pia19808/looking-up-at-mars-rover-curiosity-in-buckskin-selfie/

When NASA scientists put the rover onto Mars, they needed a way for the robot to navigate itself on a different planet without the use of a global positioning system (GPS). They came up with a technique called Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to track the rover’s movement over time without GPS. This is the same technique that our smartphones use to track their spatial position and orientation.

A VIO system is made out of two parts.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Statue of Liberty gets an AR app to celebrate its new museum

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This week, the new $100 million Statue of Liberty Museum opens in the shadow of one of America’s most iconic landmarks. The 26,000 square foot space offers insights into the statue’s storied history, along with context for that majority of visitors who ultimately can’t make it inside the structure.

For those who can’t don’t make it to Liberty Island at all, meanwhile, there’s the brand new Statue of Liberty app, which hits the iOS App Store today. Led by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, the Yap Studios-developed app offers myriad methods for bringing New York Harbor’s landmark to life.

“I told Apple I would love people who go to the Statue of Liberty to have an Apple experience,” von Furstenberg said in an event ahead of launch. “They invited me to spend two days with full immersion at Apple. The I realized that wasn’t just giving the people who visited an Apple experience, but it was also to Apple a Statue of Liberty experience. And that meant doing an app.”

Augmented reality provides the most fundamental underlying experience. There are a handful of distinct AR experiences in the app designed to offer some insights into the size, scope and history of Lady Liberty for those who aren’t able to experience it first hand.

There’s a torch panorama view, which showcases the the status view of lower Manhattan. Users can also plop a life-size AR reproduction of the statue’s foot directly in front of them or witness a recreating of the making of the statue, glimpsing inside to its struts ad watch its copper material develop the familiar green patina.

There’s an audio component, as well, including a three-part podcast mini-series narrated by von Furstenberg that explores some of the statue’s secret history. For those who end up visiting the island, there’s also a location-based audio tour in the app. Interestingly, Yap opted not to provide an in-person visual AR experience, though one could be coming down the road.

Meantime, the Statue of Liberty app is available now, only to iOS users.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google brings augmented reality to Search

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At its I/O developer conference, Google today announced that it is bringing the camera — and augmented reality – to Google Search. As the company demonstrated, you could search for something like “great white shark” and then see it in front of you through your phone’s camera. The company showed similar examples with a 3D model of the human muscular system.

It’s unclear how many of these 3D models will appear in search. It’s also unclear whether publishers will be able to create their own, but we expect to hear more about this later today.

“We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that gets things done,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. “Our goal is to build a more helpful Google for everyone.”

That starts with Search, Pichai said, and this is a new example for this. It’s somewhat gimmicky, but also pretty cool, given that you can easily go from a search term to an AR experience in the Google app.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple could launch augmented reality headset in 2020

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According to a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5mac), a reliable analyst on all things Apple, the company has been working on an augmented reality headset and is about to launch the device. This pair of glasses could go into mass production as early as Q4 2019 and should be available at some point during the first half of 2020.

It’s still unclear what you’ll be able to do with this mysterious headset. Kuo says that it’ll work more or less like an Apple Watch. You won’t be able to use the AR headset without an iPhone as it’ll rely heavily on your iPhone.

The glasses will act as a deported display to give you information right in front of your eyes. Your iPhone will do the heavy lifting when it comes to internet connectivity, location services and computing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AR headset relies on Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone.

Kuo’s report doesn’t say what you’ll find in the headset. Apple could embed displays and sensors so that the AR headset is aware of your surroundings. An AR device only makes sense if Apple puts sensors to detect things around you.

Apple has already experimented with augmented reality with its ARKit framework on iOS. Developers have been able to build apps that integrate digital elements in the real world, as viewed through your phone cameras.

While many apps have added AR features, most of them feel gimmicky and don’t add any real value. There hasn’t been a ton of AR-native apps either.

One interested use case for augmented reality is mapping. Google recently unveiled an augmented reality mode for Google Maps. You can hold your phone in front of your face to see arrows indicating where you’re supposed to go.

Apple has also been rebuilding Apple Maps with its own data. The company isn’t just drawing maps. It is collecting a ton of real world data using LiDAR sensors and eight cameras attached on a car roof. Let’s see if Apple Maps will play an important part in Apple’s rumored AR headset.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Matterport raises $48M to ramp up its 3D imaging platform

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The growth of augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware is ushering in a new age of digital media and imaging technologies, and startups that are putting themselves at the center of that are attracting interest.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Matterport, which started out making cameras but has since diversified into a wider platform to capture, create, search and utilise 3D imagery of interior and enclosed spaces in immersive real estate, design, insurance and other B2C and B2B applications, has raised $48 million. Sources tell us the money came at a pre-money valuation of around $325 million, although the company is not commenting on that.

From what we understand, the funding is coming ahead of a larger growth round from existing and new investors, to tap into what they see as a big opportunity for building and providing (as a service) highly accurate 3D images of enclosed spaces.

The company in December appointed a new CEO, RJ Pittman — who had been the chief product officer at eBay, and before that held executive roles at Apple and Google — also to help fill out that bigger strategy.

Matterport had raised just under $63 million prior to this and had been valued at around $207 million, according to PitchBook estimates.This current round is coming from existing backers, which include Lux Capital, DCM, Qualcomm Ventures and more.

Matterport’s roots are in high-end cameras built to capture multiple images to create 3D interior imagery for a variety of applications from interior design and real estate to gaming. Changing tides in the worlds of industry and hardware have somewhat shifted its course.

On the hardware side, we’ve seen a rise in the functionality of smartphone cameras, as well as a proliferation of specialised 3D cameras at lower price points. So while Matterport still sells its own high-end cameras, it is also starting to work with less expensive devices with spherical lenses — such as the Ricoh Theta, which is nearly 10 times less expensive than Matterport’s Pro2 camera — and smartphones.

Using an AI engine — which it has been building for some time — packaged into a service it calls Matterport Cloud 3.0, it converts 2D panoramic and 360-degree images into 3D ones. (Matterport Cloud 3.0 is currently in beta and will be launching fully on the 18th of March, initially supporting the Ricoh Theta V, the Theta Z1, the Insta360 ONE X, and the Leica Geosystems BLK360 laser scanner.)

Matterport is further using this technology to grow its wider database of images. It already has racked up 1.6 million 3D images and millions of 2D images, and at its current growth rate, the aim is to expand its library to 100 million in the coming years, positioning it as a Getty for 3D enclosed images.

These, in turn, will be used in two ways: to feed Matterport’s machine learning to train it to create better and faster 3D images; and to become part of a wider library, accessible to other businesses by way of a set of APIs.

And, from what I understand, the object will not just to be use images as they are: people would be able to manipulate the images to, for example, remove all the furniture in a room and re-stage it completely without needing to physically do that work ahead of listing a house for sale. Another is adding immersive interior shots into mapping applications like Google’s Street View.

“We are a data company,” RJ Pittman told me when I met him for coffee last month.

The ability to convert 2D into 3D images using artificial intelligence to help automate the process is a potentially big area that Matterport, and its investors, believe will be in increasing demand. That’s not just because people still think there will one day be a bigger market for virtual reality headsets, which will need more interesting content; but because we as consumers already have come to expect more realistic and immersive experiences today, even when viewing things on regular screens; and because B2B and enterprise services (for example design or insurance applications) have also grown in sophistication and now require these kinds of images.

(That demand is driving the creation of other kinds of 3D imaging startups, too. Threedy.ai launched last week with a seed round from a number of angels and VCs to perform a similar kind of 2D-to-3D mapping technique for objects rather than interior spaces. It is already working with a number of e-commerce sites to bypass some of the costs and inefficiencies of more established, manual methods of 3D rendering.)

While Matterport is doubling down on its cloud services strategy, it’s also been making some hires to take the business to its next steps. In addition to Pittman, they have included adding Dave Lippman, formerly design head at eBay, as its chief design officer; and engineering veteran Lou Marzano as its VP of hardware, R&D and manufacturing, with more hires to come.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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