April 21, 2019
Category archive

Augmented Reality

Snapchat launches Scan, its AR utility platform

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Point and shoot? No, point and interact. Snapchat can now help with your homework. The app’s camera is becoming the foundation of an augmented reality developer platform known as “Scan”. Snap today announced partnerships with Photomath to add the ability to solve math problems, and Giphy for detecting objects which then spawn related GIFs on screen. Scan will roll out to all Snapchat users soon, and developers interested in joining the platform can contact Snap.

Snapchat Scan spawns Giphy GIFs based on what’s around you

Previously, Snapchat’s camera could identify songs with Shazam and recognize objects so you could buy them on Amazon. But now instead of just offering a few scattered tools, Snapchat is crystallizing its plan to let you reveal hidden information about the world around you.

“Our camera lets the natural light from our world penetrate the darkness of the Internet . . . as we use the Internet more and more in our daily lives, we need a way to make it a bit more human” said Snap CEO Evan Spiegel at the company’s first ever press event, the Snap Partner Summit. There it also announced it would launch an ad network, power Stories in other apps, and launch a real-time multiplayer games platform.

Scan with Photomath solves math problems

Others like Blippar have tried to build AR utility platforms, but they lacked the community and daily use necessary to already be top of mind when people want to scan something. But Snap CEO Evan Spiegel today revealed that “In the United States, Snapchat now reaches nearly 75 percent of all 13-34 year-olds, and we reach 90 percent of 13-24 year-olds. In fact, we reach more 13-24 year-olds than Facebook or Instagram in the United States, the UK, France, Canada, and Australia.”

The comparison data comes Facebook’s ad manager estimates which aren’t always totally accurate. Still, the stats demonstrate that amongst the audience likely to explore the world via augmented reality, Snapchat is huge. Even if Facebook wanted to build this behavior, it can’t, because the Facebook Camera isn’t the heart of its social network.

When users tap and hold on the Snapchat camera, they’ll start to Scan their surroundings. Answers to math equations will magically appear. If you view a $10 bill, Hamilton will come alive and sing a song from the musical. Scan a slice of pizza and a dancing Giphy pizza slice appears. Users will also see the new Snapchat AR Bar with dedicated buttons to Scan, create a lens, or explore the 400,000 AR Lenses created by Snapchat’s community. 75 percent of Snap’s 186 million daily users play with Lenses each day, combining into 15 billion total plays to date. Scan was built off the acquisition of a startup called, which until now has powered Snap’s QR Snapcodes that let people add friends or unlock Lenses.

Snap’s new AR Bar

Outside of utility, Snapchat is also adding a slew of new creative AR features to keep that audience entertained and loyal that are launching today. For example, it’s launching Landmarkers, which uses point cloud data from user submitted Our Stories of major landmarks to power animated AR transformations of famous places. Now the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, LA’s Chinese Theater, DC’s Capitol Building, and NYC’s Flatiron Building can spew rainbows, shoot lightning, and more.

Snapchat’s new Landmarkers

For developers and Lens creators using Snap’s Lens Studio tools, Snap is launching new Creator Profiles where they can show off all the Lenses they’ve contributed. They’ll all have access to new AR templates for hand, body, and pet effects that take care of all the hardcore computer science. Creators just add in their graphical assets like a mustache for dogs, fireballs that shoot out of people’s hands, or rainbows that appear over someone when they hold their arms out.

Snapchat’s new Lens Creator profiles

Snap will even surface relevant community Lenses in the Lens Carousel based on what its Scans pick up. One place it falls short though is there’s no direct monetization opportunities for independent Lens creators, beyond Snap occasionally connecting the best AR artists to brands for paid Lens development deals. Snapchat admits it will need to create better incentives long-term.

At a big press briefing yesterday, the company’s top execs explained that growth isn’t Snapchat’s success metric any more. That’s convenient considering the launch of Instagram Stories cut Snap’s growth from 17 percent per quarter to it actually losing users and only stabilizing this quarter. Instead he says deepening user engagement, and thereby the ad revenue users generate, is Snap’s path forward.

The more Snap gets users playing with augmented reality filters and the better development tools it provides, the more brands and devs will pay to promote their Lenses in the Lens Carousel or through video ads where users swipe up to try a Lens.

But that engagement is also critical to beating Facebook and Instagram to the next phase of AR. Instagram Stories might have 500 million daily users, but they’re mostly applying AR to their face, not to interact with the world. Snapchat needs as many fun AR entertainment experiences like Landmarkers as possible to normalize AR exploration, which will unlock the potential of the Scan platform. That could one day fuel affiliate fees from AR commerce sales and other revenue streams.

Plus, Snapchat says Lenses are coded to be compatible with not just iOS and Android, but future AR hardware platforms. To build the biggest repository of AR experiences, Snapchat needs help, as I wrote two years ago that Snap’s anti-developer attitude was an augmented liability. Now it’s finally building the tools and platform to harness a legion of developers to fill the physical world with imaginary wonder. “If we can show the right Lens in the right moment, we can inspire a whole new world of creativity” concludes Snap co-founder Bobby Murphy

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Edgybees’s new developer platform brings situational awareness to live video feeds

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San Diego-based Edgybees today announced the launch of Argus, its API-based developer platform that makes it easy to add augmented reality features to live video feeds.

The service has long used this capability to run its own drone platform for first responders and enterprise customers, which allows its users to tag and track objects and people in emergency situations, for example, to create better situational awareness for first responders.

I first saw a demo of the service a year ago, when the team walked a group of journalists through a simulated emergency, with live drone footage and an overlay of a street map and the location of ambulances and other emergency personnel. It’s clear how these features could be used in other situations as well, given that few companies have the expertise to combine the video footage, GPS data and other information, including geographic information systems, for their own custom projects.

Indeed, that’s what inspired the team to open up its platform. As the Edgybees team told me during an interview at the Ourcrowd Summit last month, it’s impossible for the company to build a new solution for every vertical that could make use of it. So instead of even trying (though it’ll keep refining its existing products), it’s now opening up its platform.

“The potential for augmented reality beyond the entertainment sector is endless, especially as video becomes an essential medium for organizations relying on drone footage or CCTV,” said Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Edgybees. “As forward-thinking industries look to make sense of all the data at their fingertips, we’re giving developers a way to tailor our offering and set them up for success.”

In the run-up to today’s launch, the company already worked with organizations like the PGA to use its software to enhance the live coverage of its golf tournaments.

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Valve is building its own high-end VR headset called ‘Index’

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Valve is ready to sell its own full VR hardware getup.

The gaming giant behind some classic titles and the ubiquitous Steam store has revealed a teaser image on its site of a VR headset called the Valve Index. Alongside the photo, text reads “Upgrade your experience. May 2019” suggesting a near-term full announcement or release date of what is likely a high-end VR system.

Valve has long been a present name in virtual reality circles but it hasn’t shipped a dedicated headset of its own, instead focusing its work on the underlying software technologies. Valve has been at the forefront of the technology and was making substantial advancements while Oculus was in the process of releasing their first developer kits. Valve’s work eventually surfaced in the HTC Vive which operated on the SteamVR platform, but there hasn’t been widespread adoption from other OEMs of Valve’s VR technologies.

In a lot of ways it has been turning into a two-horse race for consumer VR platforms between Oculus and Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality. While SteamVR once seemed a likely choice to be a standard across VR devices, announced products never ended up shipping and the VR market cool-down left HTC pivoting to enterprise.

Things were just as unclear when the company laid off several of its VR hardware-focused employees a few weeks ago, leaving people to wonder whether that meant a release was never coming or one was imminent.

Well, now we know.

Now, there’s admittedly not a ton to go off of with this teaser image.

The look matches the Valve prototype headset that UploadVR found images of this past fall. That report detailed that the headset would have a display resolution similar to HTC’s Vive Pro while stretching that resolution over a wider 135-degree field-of-view. This compares to the near-110-degree FoV on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

This image is a pretty clear shot at Oculus in that while there aren’t many discernible features from the base of the headset, there is what definitely appears to be an IPD adjustment slider which allows users to define the distance between the lenses to accommodate for the space between their eyes. The exclusion of a physical IPD adjustment tool was undoubtedly the most controversial choice on Oculus’s Rift S headset, and prompted the company’s ousted founder to pen a blog post complaining about the omission.

Beyond that control, there are a couple of other things we can infer. First, this is almost definitely a PC-powered headset based on the company’s previous work, thus, the company will likely rely on their SteamVR 2.0 tracking system. The big question is then what those onboard cameras in the image are for. The most likely answer if I saw this headset from anyone else is that they were for inside-out tracking but the more likely answer is that they’re for “mixed reality” passthrough experiences, especially since the cameras both appear to be pointed forward though they are also a bit far apart.

This product’s release might not be great for Oculus, which has seemed to walk away from their position pushing high-end PC VR, but it’s far worse for HTC. The Taiwanese company’s consumer ambitions have kind of dried up in their pivot to enterprise markets though they have still seemed to be marketing towards consumers. For most users the best features of the Vive are features developed largely by Valve including the tracking system and software platform, so getting a high-end device direct from Valve seems like a very easy sell to these customers.

Again, not a huge amount to go off from this landing page, but it seems we’ll hear more in a couple months.

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Magic Leap’s headset will go on sale at a few AT&T stores next week

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While Magic Leap’s first augmented reality headset launch wasn’t the earth-shattering drop they had sort of pitched the world on, the company is about to see a major corporate partnership push their device in front of more consumers’ eyes. Next week, the $2,295 headset will be going up for sale at flagship AT&T stores in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago.

Having more channels of distribution than direct-to-consumer orders from the web is obviously good for Magic Leap, and distills some sort of bleeding-edge innovation marketing ethos for AT&T, but as the Magic Leap One appears to be exiting the dev kit phase of its life cycle, what relatively normal person out there is really going to be interested in buying this thing?

I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t a great reason to own one of these as a consumer, aside from just exploring a new piece of technology that’s pretty interesting.

VR platforms from Oculus and Valve have built up far more robust storefronts, but that’s going to be a big challenge for Magic Leap to do on its own. The company has showcased plenty of brief demos, but there isn’t a huge amount of gaming content for the device, and Magic Leap doesn’t seem to have realized any substantial new consumer hits. At AT&T’s in-store demos, Magic Leap will be showing off a Game of Thrones experience they’ve built with HBO.

The enterprise market is perhaps the more realistic sell, and while it would seem like most customers would know whether they want something like this, having the opportunity to take it for a whirl, albeit with some GoT content, might be the added push they need.

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Adventurous taps live actors and AR to take families on high-tech scavenger hunts

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Augmented reality looked like it was supposed to a ubiquitous success, Apple and Google and Facebook seemed to say so, but things are taking a bit of time to get kicked off so the startups in the space are having to get real weird with it.

Adventurous is an augmented reality scavenger hunt geared towards families, but it drags in enough elements of the real world to make it a pretty robust experience. This isn’t your typical AR phone app that you pop open once. For one thing you have to be at a certain physical location in order to try it out, you also have to make an appointment, and, oh yeah, there are live actors involved.

This may be one of the more odd companies in Y Combinator’s latest startup batch, it’s basically a kind of tech-enabled live theater. The company’s co-founders acknowledge that having appointments and live actors involved with an app isn’t the most scalable business model in internet history, but they say that they’ll figure stuff out as they move along and that for now the families and kids involved really like the experience.

“We know that families are constantly looking for stuff to do with their kids and not all screen time is good screen time,” Adventurous co-founder Jeany Ngo tells TechCrunch.

Adventurous co-founders Jeany Ngo and Brian Schulman

When a family or group books an adventure, they meet at a designated location at a given time and get a run down on the mission and story from actors in full dress and character, then they’re tasked with walking around to different physical locations where different geo-tagged experiences will pop up on their ARKit or ARCore-enabled phone and they’ll have to complete the tasks to move on.

The experiences are designed to be around 45 minutes to 1 hour each and the whole shebang costs $15 per person.

One of the big selling points of augmented reality as a medium is that it can theoretically gain an understanding of a location’s geometry and plunk down digital content in a way that’s tailored to your space. That may be true for something like Google’s AR Stickers where it’s a little stationary 3D model, but when you start talking about actual storylines, the fact is that computer vision just can’t make reliable sense of a dynamic environment when it comes to a game or experience.

The company has been testing out various locations for their AR adventures, right now they’re sticking with missions in San Francisco’s Chinatown and Golden Gate Park. It’s a little unclear whether there could be any associated legal issues for a startup tying digital experiences to physical public locations, but the co-founders say they haven’t run in to any issues yet.

With Adventurous, the startup is banking on the robustness of an ironed-out experience to suck in fans and bring them back. The company’s co-founders foresee a world where narratives fit together like episodes in a TV series bringing families back to book appointments to see what happens next.

Location-based entertainment has been a hit-or-miss vertical for the VR industry, though some startups have seen success. Sandbox VR finished out a $68 million Series B earlier this year in a round led by a16z. For AR startups, there haven’t been too many stories of entertainment experiences that have been strictly tied to geographic areas outside of event activations. While you can find Pokéstops inside Pokémon GO, it isn’t a full linear experience that requires everyone to move along an identical path.

Adventurous is live now, if you’re in SF you can book yourself a fancy scavenger hunt in augmented reality this weekend.

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