I'm passionate about the use of AR in urban environments. However, having tested some simple applications, I have been very disappointed because the sensors on the smartphone I use (Samsung GalaxyS) and the alogrithms for feature detection we have commercially are not well suited to show me really stable or very precise augmentations over the real world.
I want to be able to point at a building and get specific information about the people or activities (e.g., businesses) within at a room-by-room/window-and-door level of precision. Instead, I'm lucky if I see small 2D labels that jiggle around in space, and don't stay "glued" to the surface of a structure when I move around. Let's face it, in an urban environment, humans don't feel comfortable when the nearby buildings (or their parts) shake and float about!
Of course, this is not the only obstacle to urban AR use and I'm not the first to discover this challenge. It's been clear to researchers for much longer. To overcome this in the past some developers used logos on buildings as markers. This certainly helped with recognizing which building I'm asking about and, based on the size of the logo, estimating my distance from it, but there's still low precision and poor alignment with edges.
In 4Q 2011 metaio began to share what its R&D team has come up with to address this among other issues associated with blending digital information into the real world in more realistic ways. In the October 27 press release, the company described how, by combining gravity awareness with camera-based feature detection, it is able to improve the speed and performance of detecting real world objects, especially buildings.
The applications for gravity awareness go well beyond urban AR. "In addition to enabling virtual promotions for real estate services, the gravity awareness in AR can also be used to improve the user experience in rendering virtual content that behaves like real objects; for example, virtual accessories, like a pair of earrings, will move according to how the user turns his or her head."
The concept of Gravity Alignment is very simple. It is described and illustrated in this video:
Earlier this week (on January 30, 2012), metaio released a new video about what they've done over the past 6 months to bring this technology closer to commercial availability. The video below and some insights about when gravity aligned AR will be available on our devices have been written up in Engadget and numerous general technology blogs in recent days.
I will head right over to the Khronos Group-sponsored AR Forum at Mobile World Congress later this month to see if ARM will be demonstrating this on stage and to learn more about the value they expect to add to make Gravity Aligned AR part of my next device.