Which Augmented Reality Framework Should I Use?

Since Apple bought Metaio back in May, the Augmented Reality (AR) SDK market is an important player short. Based on a list of various AR-SDKs on Socialcompare, I looked at the alternatives out there. The results of my research didn’t make me very happy, but let me show you.


My requirements to the AR-SDKs were that they should support Android, iOS and Unity and enable more than just marker tracking (natural feature tracking). So I whittled them down to the list below, adding also ARToolkit and Wikitude, since their latest versions fulfil my criteria as well. Then I tested them by writing a simple target tracking program with the respective Unity plugins and running them on an Android device. Here is what I found:

ARmedia

ARmedia specializes in tracking 3D objects. As far as I could see, however, it was not possible to define 2D areas as targets. Unfortunately, ARmedia is therefore not really suited to my development needs.

ARPA

I tried downloading the Unity plugin from their website. I filled out the necessary form twice but did not receive the plugin via email as promised. I then tried to contact their support with another form, but did not receive an answer there, either.

ARToolkit

According to their website, ARToolkit is ‘the world’s most widely used tracking library for augmented reality’. The latest version contains a Unity plugin which works very well.
Creating targets online takes a little bit of time and effort. But the documentation is good and so the ARToolkit grants developers a lot of freedom, especially compared to other providers. Also their license model looks great, as it is free under LGPL, Version 3.0.
The basic functions work well also, which makes ARToolkit a feasible option at least for simple applications.

Catchoom craftAR

When testing Catchoom, I unfortunately ran into some technical difficulties again. AR targets must first be created in Unity and then uploaded to the cloud. When you create the app, you only have to provide an ID to load the targets. However, my practical tests failed, because the camera could not be opened on any of my devices (and I tried a few).

D’Fusion

On their website , I could not find any instructions on how or where to get the software development kit. I tried contacting them directly via email, but have not received a reply so far.

IN2AR

I would really have liked to continue to test the IN2AR SDK after installing the Unity plugin, but I couldn’t. Creating an image target online was simply not possible. For weeks (!) now, the user interface stubbornly keeps showing me the following message:

“Your Image Target is now in the server queue,
waiting in line to be converted into a data file..

This may take a while, depending
on the amount of users.”

I’m also still waiting for a reply to my email to support in which I described the problem to them.

MAXST AR SDK 2.1

The MaxstAR SDK 2.1 Light Unity plugin comes, like most frameworks, with an online platform for creating targets. The plugin is intuitive to use and works just as you would expect it to. Tracking targets works fine, but it sort of feels like you’re working with a beta-version. One in four targets could not be recognized and when parts of the target are obscured, as well as at certain angles, the target is too easily lost.

Unfortunately, also the licensing model is not really described in much detail, which can quickly lead to insecurities or problems for professional developers.

Obvious Engine

When I couldn’t find a download link for the Obvious Engine SDK on their website, I contacted their support via email. What I got back was this: “Hi, unfortunately we have discontinued our AR SDK.” So, sadly, that’s it for the Obvious Engine as well – but hey, at least I got an (automated) reply this time.

Qualcomm Vuforia

With Vuforia 5, I finally got some results. Everything went swimmingly and creating targets via their online platform works great. The tracking of the image targets is reliable and using the SDK becomes easy after a bit of research. The future list is diverse and due to the large user platform, you can find loads of support-articles and tutorials.

The only real drawback is Vuforia’s unfortunate pricing, which can quickly become very expensive and obscure for commercial users.

Wikitude

The newly implemented version of the Wikitude SDK5 does contain a Unity plugin, but during my test, the version was still in its beta-phase. Unsurprisingly therefore, I did have some technical difficulties. And I was obviously not the only one, judging by the large amount of similar problem descriptions on their forum. According to a Wikitude staff member, the Android version of the Unity plugin is in its final quality assurance phase, so I can’t yet make a definite judgement. But if you ask me, I think it’s worth keeping an eye on the Wikitude SDK.

Xloudia

In order to receive the Xloudia framework, you have to go through an entire order process. You can have your targets created for you via a web interface where you also receive keys and IDs which you then enter into the target category of the Unity plugin. Then you should immediately be able to track those targets … in theory at least.
You can open the app and you actually do see a camera stream with a line moving up and down the screen, where it says “scanning” to let you know that there is some tracking going on. But unfortunately, nothing follows that. None of the four test images was recognized. And before you ask, no it was not the targets’ fault.

My Two Cents

If what you’re looking for is professionalism, good support and scale, you’ll definitely need to check out Vuforia. If you’re not put off by their (pretty steep, especially for smaller companies) prices, you’re probably not going to find a better framework right now.

If all you need is basic functionality, you might do fine with ARToolkit. It allows you to be pretty flexible and, under certain circumstances, the framework can be used for free.

The dark horse here is Wikitude, which is just in the process of establishing itself in the market. They do still have some ways to go in terms of stability, though. But out of all the SDKs included here, Wikitude is definitely the one I’m going to keep my eye on.

 

Mathis

About the author

Mathis

Some say, that being a vegetarian, Mathis doesn't get enough nutrients. But he still has enough energy to constantly satisfy his hunger for new things and expand his knowledge. In his free time, you can usually find him in lofty heights - on his slackline or hanging from his paraglider.