Augmented Reality SDK: Insight into Wikitude

Imagine simply directing your smartphone at a historical building and finding out everything there is to know about it. Wikitude’s software development kit (SDK) makes that possible.

Wikitude are one of the companies developing leading tools for creating genuine augmented reality (AR) experiences for iOS and Android users. The firm’s SDK has been trialled by 20 of the “World’s Top 100 Companies”,[1] putting it at the forefront of AR development. The SDK contains tools such as 3D rendering, which allows an app user to discover their surroundings through immersion, thereby enhancing their experience. It is a must-have for developers interested in adding any AR to their applications. You may have come across apps that use this technology by, for example, requiring you to point your iPad towards the sky for it to tell you the names of the stars you can see.

The company was founded in 2008 in Salzburg, Austria. Initially, the company focused on bringing AR experiences through its own app, the Wikitude World Browser App.[2] The first version of the current SDK was launched in 2012. There are now about 10,000 applications that use it in some way, such as the Golfscape GPS Rangefinder.[3] This iOS app enhances the golf course experience, giving real-time distances to the front, middle and back of the green, all superimposed from the user’s current view of the golf course. Beyond this, there are over 100,000 registered developer accounts with Wikitude, creating a large community that support each other through a dedicated forum. This is helpful for anyone implementing AR for the first time, but also for developers looking for help on niche situations.

Wikitude achieves its interactivity through location-based AR. By pointing your phone in a certain direction, the position of the objects that can be observed on the screen is determined using the user’s location, the direction the user is facing using the built-in compass, and the accelerometer (to align the objects in portrait or landscape view on the mobile device).[4] The SDK is designed for iOS, Android, and wearable devices including eyewear products such as Google Glass, Vuzix M100, and Epson BT-200. It allows developers to superimpose videos, images, 3D models and entire HTML code to create a more interactive app for users. One particularly useful feature of Wikitude is that it takes out the complexity of coding the AR, and lets developers focus on the content, making it a friendly tool. However, more advanced uses of AR development might benefit from the D’Fusion SDK, which offers a more secure, custom solution.[5]

 

dev2dev
Figure 1: Illustraion showing some example code, courtesy of Wikitude.[10]

Another possible application for Wikitude’s features includes improving the user experience of sports fixtures. For example, by pointing your phone towards a tennis court at Wimbledon, the app would give the user a full description of who is playing, along with live scores and instant replays of noteworthy points. This would combine the experience of a live match with content available only when watching a broadcast on TV.

The SDK also features 2D image recognition, which could enable more information about a product to be given on a mobile device. For example, in a catalog containing pictures of products, this SDK would recognise the product image and render a virtual 3D version, making it easier for the app user to see what the product looks like in reality. It can also provide options such as instant online buying, saving the user time. This interactivity could have provide further functionality; for example, in primary education, it could be used to transpose a 2D paper representation of a cube into an easier-to-understand 3D object.

The SDK can also be used to recognise articles in magazines that are written in a foreign language, and give the user the option to read the article in their own language on their mobile device. It can even be used to convert handwritten text on a piece of paper to computer text. Google offers a similar conversion service, but it has been argued that it may not work as reliably when converting handwritten work.[6]

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 15.19.16
Figure 2: Picture showing 2D image recognition in action. A virtual 3D version of the product is rendered, along with a phone number through which the user can buy the product. Photo courtesy of Wikitude.[11]

Wikitude also offer the ability to manage content using a cloud-based system. This is useful if the app being developed will need to recognise more than 1,000 images. However, an Internet connection will be required for this to work. The cloud recognition software is based on Restful APIs that manage the content. This means that the app sends and receives data from the cloud server using an HTTP request.[7]

The Wikitude SDK offers some distinct advantages over its competitors: it is a well-respected, widely used development platform, and has been in use for several years now —and incorporated in many apps⁠—suggesting that the software works in the way it’s supposed to. Nevertheless, the steep pricing⁠—particularly with the Pro versions⁠—may put off amateur developers.[8] There is a free trial version without a time limit, offering all the features available on the pro products. However, this version does contain a watermark, which may be off-putting for anyone hoping to develop a product.

In future releases, the company hopes to expand on its object-tracking capabilities. This new feature will enable apps to recognise and track 3D objects and augment them.[9] It builds upon the idea of recognising images on a 2D layer, and expands these capabilities to any 3D objects through the addition of a third plane (the z-plane). This will improve the accuracy and precision of object recognition.

The improvement of AR techniques will increase in importance as the technology becomes more widespread. Its main growth area will most likely be in eyewear, which⁠—due to the small screen size (the lens size)⁠—relies heavily on AR to create an immersive user experience.

 

References

  1. Philipp Nagele, The 2016 Wearable Technology Show, 2016.
  2. Wikitude, Publish your AR project to the world with the Wikitude app!.
  3. Iphoneness, 40 Best Augmented Reality iPhone Apps, 2015.
  4. Gerhard Reitmayr & Dieter Schmalstieg, Location Based Applications for Mobile Augmented Reality, 2003.
  5. Mark Baldwin, The Top 5 Augmented Reality SDK's, 2013.
  6. Google, Translate Images, 2016.
  7. Stack Overflow, What exactly is RESTful programming?, 2009.
  8. Wikitude, Wikitude Store, 2016.
  9. Wikitude, Unity Plugin Update – 3D tracking, new sample app and more!, 2016.
  10. Wikitude, Dev to Dev, 2015.
  11. Wikitude, SDK Overview, 2016.

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