So, you’re in a foreign country, walking away from the crowded touristy streets in search of an authentic cultural experience. You feel the hot sun on your skin and a whiff of the tasty traditional cuisine. Not sure where it comes from? Just launch an AR app on your phone, point it at the street and you’ll see the names, ratings and specialties of every restaurant on the horizon. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But location-based augmented reality apps like this are already here, ready to make the lives of their users so much easier and more entertaining.
True, the AR industry faces certain technical and social challenges. Creating markerless GPS-based augmented reality apps falls into the first category. Placing AR objects like signs or pictures over physical objects on the go without any markers is a job not every AR app development company can do.
But let’s have a look at some markerless AR development concerns and ways to tackle them.
The Challenges of GPS-Based AR Apps
Developers need to put a lot of effort into delivering a good location-based AR mobile app. The device and the app have to define the location of the physical object (e.g. building), calculate distance and attach a virtual object (sign, text, picture). Simply slapping on the digital element won’t do the trick. It has to be placed accurately, stick tightly, remain stable and not jiggle when the user is moving or changing angles.
But high levels of accuracy are hardly achievable with a phone GPS alone. The issue requires a complex solution. Developing a high-quality GPS-based AR app requires using specialized augmented reality SDKs with the SLAM method and the markerless technology.
Marker-Based vs Markerless Apps
Augmented reality mobile apps fall into two categories: marker-based or markerless (location-based).
Marker-based apps are all about image recognition. Basically, these AR applications are programmed to identify specific preset markers (QR code, picture, symbol, pattern) through the smartphone camera. The moment this app recognizes the marker, an augmented reality object pops up to deliver the necessary information.
Markerless or location-based apps, however, don’t need any patterns or markers to function.
The SLAM Technology
Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) made a breakthrough in 2017. This revolutionary technology allows apps to understand the environment and create maps for more accurate digital object placement. Thanks to SLAM’s algorithms and sensors, the virtual objects in AR apps that overlay the real-world stay still, don’t bounce or float when the user is moving. Perfect!
Major Augmented Reality SDKs
Here are four of the most popular AR SDKs that support SLAM and the markerless technology.
Just like with native mobile app development, iOS and Android have different AR SDKs. The official AR SDK from Apple, ARKit, was introduced in iOS 11. When this OS update went live, owners of iPhones and iPads with A9 CPU and higher could instantly try running AR apps. This includes:
- iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
- iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
- iPhone SE
- iPad Pro
- iPad (2017 and up)
- iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
- iPhone X.
ARKit offers everything you need to build a great location-based AR app: Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) for accurate environment tracking, 1080p HD imagery support, scene understanding and lighting estimation, powerful devices with advanced camera sensors and a big, supportive community.
The updated ARKit version 1.5 supports vertical planes. And now that iPhone sensors can recognize the walls around, accurately placing AR objects like signs and linking them to vertical spaces like buildings on the street is not a problem.
Please mention the drawback: ARKit works only on some latest iPhones with latest iOS (mention exact versions).
Unlike Apple, Google has been fiddling with realities for a long time now. The effort they put into creating Google Glass and Tango transformed into the experience Google used to launch its own AR SDK – ARCore.
Don’t be mistaken: Tango and ARCore are different projects. The main difference is that ARCore doesn’t require any additional or specific hardware to bring augmented reality to Android users – it’s all in their phones.
One of ARCore’s strongest features is mapping. It’s great for collecting and storing real-world 3D localization data – a handy trick for markerless AR apps. The SDK also has some great positioning and environment features like anchoring objects (to place digital objects accurately), environmental understanding (detects horizontal surfaces) and motion tracking (determines the devices position and orientation in regard to its movement).
Android device fragmentation has always been a double-edged sword for users. That’s why ARCore’s biggest inconvenience is the small number of devices that can actually use it. Google promises to increase this number to roughly 100 million devices, but for now, ARCore is only available on Google Pixels and Samsung S8 running on 7.0 Nougat.
Wikitude has become a household name in AR application development. Having the world’s leading cross-platform AR SDK, Wikitude can boast over 20 000 developed applications and more than 100 000 registered AR developers.
This all-in-one AR framework provides an SDK for Android, iOS and smartglasses to create both marker-based and markerless AR apps. It features image recognition and tracking, object recognition and tracking, 3D markerless tracking (SLAM) and geolocation. Thanks to extensions, Wikitude is also compatible with other platforms and frameworks. It offers plugins for Cordova and Unity, a Titanium module and a Xamarin component.
SMART blends ARCore, ARKit and Wikitude’s SLAM engine into a single AR SDK. This remarkable API makes augmented reality apps cross-platform and suitable for a much wider array of devices. According to Wikitude, SMART will allow covering 92,6% of iOS devices and about 35% of Android devices with high-quality markerless AR apps. And thanks to this new feature, Cordova, Titanium and Xamarin developers will finally be able to work with ARKit and ARCore.
No more platform-specific code! The Wikitude SDK will analyze the user’s type of device and determine which one should be used in that particular case: ARKit, ARCore or Wikitude’s SLAM. The downside? Wikitude is pretty pricey. If you want to build a markerless GPS-based AR app, the commercial license will cost you around 2 500 EUR for one Android and one iOS app. On the other hand, if you use Wikitude to create a stellar AR product, you’ll return the investment in no time.
As the name suggests, KudanSLAM knows a thing or two about simultaneous localization and mapping. It offers a unique approach to tracking and mapping and has modules designed to work with already generated SLAM maps. Object positioning in Kudan’s AR apps is highly precise and accurate, with no drifting or trembling – perfect for markerless GPS-based augmented reality apps.
KudanSLAM is very flexible. It allows creating AR apps for different hardware and operating systems, targeted at a wide variety of purposes and audiences: mobile, IoT, AI, robotics – you name it! Kudan is also extremely configurable, easy-to-implement and shows impressive performance results. The trick about Kudan’s AR app speed is in low-latency tracking at high frame rates. This means that, unlike ARKit and ARCore, KudanSLAM apps can run on low performance processors.
Kudan’s pricing varies but there is a free non-commercial license for indie developers, making it a good fit for budding startups.
The opportunities of location-based augmented reality
According to Tractica, by 2022 there will be nearly 1.9 billion unique monthly active users of mobile AR globally, bringing the revenue of $18.5 billion annually. Yes, that many. Just to imagine that a couple of years ago this potentially billion-dollar market was a geeky hype nobody took seriously. Now, industries like retail, education, manufacturing, construction, healthcare, tourism and marketing make use of augmented reality. All thanks to the advent of powerful devices and slick SDKs for smooth AR app development.
Geo-based AR apps are a great way to shake up customers. The experience they offer is not only exciting; it’s also extremely relevant, allowing businesses to make precise offers and provide additional information to the right people at the right moment.
For example, Lowe’s Home Improvement built the AR app to help customers find any product faster inside their stores. The application detects user’s current location using computer vision algorithms and then guides to a preferred item. The product price, customer reviews and more info is updated in real time.
In fact, 75% of customers expect the AR experience from retailers, and 71% stated they would buy more often at stores with augmented reality experience.
Imagine that you’ve found a house in a cozy district, and wondering its’ price, interior, etc. Location-based AR is the fastest & easiest way to find out even without calling your agent. In fact, that’s what InmobiliAR does: the application lets you find properties for sale around, view the interior through the AR feature and request the appointment in a few clicks. This saves loads of time in buying/renting process, offering a brand new kind of experience for clients.
What is more, augmented reality enables showing the houses that are still under construction and customizing its colors, furniture, etc. With digital 3D models pinned to the real world locations, clients could view their future homes to the smallest details. This would result in faster & easier closing of deals. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Tourism & hospitality
Location-based augmented reality is a great way to navigate travelers through a large hotel or airport and help to learn more about popular sightseeing spots nearby. Customers expect the interactive experience from companies with AR directional arrows, distances, and info imposed on real-life objects. So don’t hesitate to let them discover the nearest restaurants, shops or hotels. Why not turn their trip into a personalized tour guide?
In healthcare, doctors already use AR apps to find the nearest defibrillators and the best route to them. This way, augmented reality improves the quality of healthcare service and even helps to save lives. Although, most of its use cases are yet to be discovered.
Geo-based AR allows to visualize entire buildings or their components models by showing their exact locations with 3D models placed on a construction site. This simplifies project management and decision-making, preventing future problems. Gamma AR app is a great example of how markerless augmented reality can help to avoid costly errors. By overlaying 3D BIM models on the actual construction sites, it reveals any planning issues so you can make the necessary adjustments before the project is finished.
With AR geo-based experiences, any business can enhance its customers’ experience. For example, in a Mossland game players can buy & customise landmarks nearby, populate them with fantastic creatures and even sell for real money.
Or how about “Zombies, run!” that turns your daily jogging routine into a real adventure? Running from zombies, players complete different missions and collect supplies.
These are just few examples to demonstrate the growing demand for location-based AR apps across industries. Of course, you can find your own way to apply augmented reality in your domain.
For sure, building high-quality markerless GPS-based AR apps is no piece of cake. For an application to be truly entertaining, it has to be accurate and natural. The combination of SLAM, markerless technology and a specialized AR development SDK can make the app perfectly precise. Just remember to find a rel AR app development company from Ukraine or one of the top AR app development companies in the UK so you can build an excellent application together.
Augmented reality gains popularity worldwide, so don’t hesitate. The opportunity for your location-based AR app might be just around the corner.