Augmented reality (AR) is still a fairly new technology, but in the coming years it could have huge implications for how we see and browse through the world around us. Innovations like Google Glass all already hinting at a world where the virtual and real merge, and many are trying to figure out how this technology can be used — and what it might mean for the future of local marketing.
Street Fight recently spoke with Jules White, co-founder and chief scientist of PAR Works, a company that is working to implement AR technologies into people’s daily lives. He talked with us about how their platform works, the self-service MARS builder they are launching, and how AR can be used to aid in the consumer’s decision making process.
How did PAR Works start and what are your goals for the company?
About two and a half years ago we started a research project and it was looking at applying augmented reality to construction sites. So basically, if you’re at a construction site, we want you to be able to take out your phone and take a picture and see the 3-D model for the building overlaid directly on the photograph.
Our research project basically developed a new approach to doing this augmented reality that’s based on computer vision. We take 20 to 30 photographs of any real-world 3-D object and we build essentially a 3-D model from those photographs and we allow you to draw on your photographs and annotate them and essentially attach virtual information to them. Once that’s done, anybody who takes a new photo of that same object it will draw in the correct location on the new photo they just took with millimeter precision and it just takes a couple of seconds. It’s a really simple interface, you just take 20-30 photos to add to the database and once that’s done anybody can add annotations to it and can see other people’s annotations on their photos.
Let’s say a business takes a picture of their storefront and puts in information using your platform. Can anyone go in and add or edit that?
It depends on how you want to set it up. You could allow other people to annotate your photo set as well. So if you wanted something collaborative you can have groups of users that are collaborating … Or you could have a business, which probably doesn’t want arbitrary users to attach virtual information to their store — so you could lock it down.
What can the interface be integrated into? Do they need to use your app or can it be any mobile map?
It’s a cloud service, so it can be integrated into anyone’s app and we have a very simple API. We can do it as a browser-based application so you can simply go to a website — an HTML5 website on a newer Android or iOS devices — and we can do all of the augmentation directly on a mobile website so you don’t even need to use it in an app if you don’t want to.
What’s going to make augmented reality relevant in the real world is when we are helping people make decisions. When it becomes decision-support rather then cool, cute animation on top of something.
On your site it says how important it is to get consumers the most relevant information quickly, how do you think AR and PAR Works does that?
My personal opinion is that the differentiator between the augmented reality that has been around and what’s going to make augmented reality relevant in the real world is when we are helping people make decisions. When it becomes decision-support rather then cool, cute animation on top of something.
Because we have such precision and because we have a simple interface to add new options to the database and because it’s identify a real-world 3-D object and tag a real-world 3-D object, it allows you to build these sorts of decision-support systems … Once you get into that decision-supporting, when you can support those kind of capabilities on top of real world objects that are sitting around that’s the differentiator.
What are some of the examples of tools you offer businesses to use this technology to better connect with consumers?
There’s two approaches. One is you can bring any of your own objects, things you are manufacturing or aisles in your own store. Bring 20-30 photographs of them and upload them to our system annotate them and attach whatever virtual information you want. That’s sort of the simplest thing.
Or you can take our stuff, and directly white label it and directly incorporate it into your own app. … It’s the ability to help consumers make decisions about the products that they want to buy or are about to buy.
Can you talk about this MARS app you’re launching?
The focus of MARS is we now have a self-serve platform where anybody can come with photos of any products that they have, that they produce. They can generate models with our tools and annotate their photographs with whatever information and our MARS app allows you to consume all of that content. So now any brand or retailer can now push content to consumers and attach it to the real-world products they produce.
Is this more product-based? Can I take a picture of a restaurant I’m in front of and see the happy hour deals or their menu? Or is it just for purchasing products, like deciding what pair of shoes to buy?
It can work for either of those scenarios. What type of object your photographing doesn’t really matter to us.
How important do you think augmented reality will be for the future of mobile technology and, more broadly, location technology?
I think we have to realize that the augmented reality of the future is helping people make decisions by showing them information relevant to the real-world objects that they’re looking at.
I think moving into that space is really really important for mobile. It’s, honestly, become much more important because of things like Google Glass and people building these sort of head-mounted displays. If mobile wants to stay relevant, that’s the kind of experience those augmented reality displays are going to provide. And if you can get everything that’s on your phone in a glasses form, your phone is going to have to be able to compete by doing the same kind of augmented reality stuff as well.
Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.