Augmented Reality – Try before you buy

A little while ago, Pete wrote about all the new features Vuforia 7 has to offer. Today I will go a little bit into detail about the new “Ground Plane” and “Fusion” features. But don’t worry, this will be totally practice-oriented and not too technical. Thus, today’s blog post will tell you what all the fuss is all about and, more importantly, what you can do with all those new features.

Vuforia Ground Plane and Fusion

Everybody knows standard Augmented Reality applications (at the very least, everybody who’s frequents our blog and tries out our apps should). Just place the marker, hold the smartphone/tablet above it and start augmenting – Bob’s your uncle. Wrong (unless you have an uncle called Bob, then that part is true).  Vuforia 7 made the first step a little bit easier, since with Vuforia Fusion and Ground Plane the device recognizes planes (i.e. your floor, walls, a table top, …) and you can place (3D) objects anywhere in the room. Thus, Augmented Reality is definitely ready for the mass market now and, of course, I have some use cases to prove it.

But first, why markerless?

The obvious benefit: You don’t need a marker anymore, as you might have worked out from the name. By recognizing the available (ground) planes, you can place your objects anywhere in the right size and at the right place. The flood of different target sheets is history. The only limits are physical objects – like walls or furniture, but you knew that already. You can even digitally place your new dream home directly in the field you want to build it in. One big advantage: as the position if the 3D object is permanent, you can walk through the house and take a look at the floor plan this way.

And if you are planning on building a pool in the garden as well – that’s no problem. Just pick the place where it will be and place the pool to figure out what location and size would work best. Watch the video below to see how it works.

Augmented Sunscreen

What sounds like digitally applying sunscreen, is actually an Augmented Reality application which lets you select and configure your future light protection (such as blinds or roller blinds) directly in your living room. Two markers (or the plane detection) determine a window’s corners and you’re ready to start configuring. Thus, the 3D AR-configurator gives you a good first impression of the various models and colours that might fit into your space before actually ordering your sun protection (ideally, through the app, of course).

So, once you’ve placed, for example, a digital venetian blind on your actual window, you can look at all the possible configurations that are available, like different models, fame colours, sizes and so on. Thus, you get a pretty good feel for what product works best with the rest of your furniture or how the room atmosphere feels when the blinds are half closed. The same principles apply for awnings and marquees, of course, which you can digitally mount on your wall, configure, extend and retract, in order to make sure they optimally fit into your space or to figure out how big the shade will be.

It is also a big step for sales. The customers don’t have to send in measurements to the sales people, who no longer have to lug around a large supply of different samples, which makes things a lot easier logistically. In theory, the sales people (depending on how fit they are) could go to all their appointments in the area by bike, since all they now need is a smartphone or tablet.

Also in this case, you are no longer required to have printed markers, due to the use of Vuforia 7. Even though the current version does not yet support vertical planes, we found a way to place objects on vertical surfaces anyway. I won’t go into detail about that though – we need to keep some secrets. In any case, you just need an app to try out everything I described above, without the hassle of printing and placing markers.

See-through windows

“Well, duh.” some of you might say. However, we obviously stretched the definition of see-through little bit in our Internorm App. It not only works great with beacons, it perfectly visualises 3D Augmented Reality objects on you smartphone or tablet.

Using markers, different kinds of windows are displayed in AR before your eyes. Thus, you are able to see differences between the different models and get to know their individual benefits, so you can better decide which one might best fit your needs – including selecting the perfect frame colour. But there’s more to it than a “simple” 3D model of a window, this is where the see-through part comes in. By tapping the model, you can change to the cross-section-view where you can look inside the frame in order to see the inner make-up of the individual kinds of frames and how they work. So, you can not only look through the glass but also the outer part of the frame.

Naturally, that’s is another big advantage for you as a customer. Before actually going “window shopping”, you can look through all the different kind of windows and get a first impression – all from the comfort of your own home and without the need to make an appointment. You only have to flip though the product catalogue (or print the markers) and load the app to make a first selection, without the need to leave your comfy couch.

If you’re now thinking, “Hold up, so I do need a marker after all!?”, you’re right. But only because markerless Augmented Reality is not yet supported by all the different devices in use out there. However, the big advantage of using Vuforia 7 is that it is now possible to combine both tracking possibilities (marker-based AND markerless) in one single app. That’s a hugely important step for end-user applications, since you neither want to alienate a large part of your user base, nor offer up two different apps. Now, users with different devices can use the app in different ways but achieve the same results!

Is that it with the use cases?

No, of course not. The area of real estate and furnishing alone offers a multitude of further possibilities. The basic principle is this: everything you would ideally like to see in its future surroundings before buying it (e.g. furniture), everything you have a hard time imagining solely based on product samples (floors, wall coverings, tiles, marquees …) and everything that’s too big for a traveling sales person to bring you a sample of (stoves, large appliances and other machines, houses, pools, …) you can place in the actual world with Augmented Reality and thus try it before you buy it. Thus, you’re that bit more sure before making your final decision and buyer’s remorse can hopefully be prevented.

How does the whole thing work exactly?

You know us, we can’t go entirely without giving an explanation on the technological background. But don’t worry, we’ll keep it short. As you might know, the big players Apple and Google have recently been pushing the further development of Augmented Reality and the creation of AR content. They released ARKit (Apple) and, respectively, ARCore (Google) last year, both with markerless AR support. Using Vuforia Fusion, Vuforia 7 can now access exactly those solutions, if they are available on the device. If they are not, Vuforia uses its own Ground Plane framework. The reason for this is that ARKit and ARCore-ready devices have additional hardware (a second camera, a depth sensor, …) which make the tracking more stable and reliable. Therefore, Vuforia first checks whether either of those frameworks can be used and selects the appropriate one and extends the list of devices for markerless AR applications with those supporting Ground plane.

If we now come back to the example of our Internorm App, it becomes clear why markers are still being used here. Since not all smartphones and tablets are built the same and don’t fulfil the basic requirements for markerless tracking, Ground Plane is simply not supported everywhere yet. And since no company wants to simply leave out a significant amount of users, marker tracking is still being used at least in addition to the markerless version. On top of that, existing print products such as catalogues flyers and print ads also serve to bring new users to the app. Thus, markers will definitely continue to be used in print, where they also play an important role in design.

Looking to the Future

Recognizing vertical surfaces is definitely the next step. ARKit 1.5 (the beta-version) already supports vertical planes, but, as I said, it’s still in beta. It will also get much easier and more exciting to build AR apps with the additional possibilities that continue to be developed. And everything else is just great AF – Augmented Future.