While numerous startups are competing to convert the AR Cloud from a pie-in-the-sky to a reality, Wikitude is thinking smaller with the latest edition of its augmented reality SDK.
At the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara on Thursday, the company launched the beta version of Wikitude SDK 8, which is available to download now. SDK 8 gives app developers the ability to implement many of the qualities, such as shared, real-time AR experiences, persistently anchored content, and instant localization, that make up the properties of the AR cloud and evolve AR apps from individual experiences to group pursuits.
"So far AR has been a solo-experience. This is our entry point to transform it into a collaborative one. Moving forward, I am sure there will be a fundamental shift in how we consume information, communicate with each other and collaborate," said Martin Herdina, Wikitude CEO, in a statement.
However, while the concept of the AR Cloud calls for shared experience and persistent content accessible instantly anywhere, Wikitude's philosophy calls for the option of privacy for consumers and enterprises, or what the company calls "micro AR clouds."
"The idea of the AR Cloud obviously requires that your device will seamlessly track all of your environment. All of it," wrote Philipp Nagele, Wikitude's chief technical officer, in a recent blog post. "But here is the issue: I am pretty sure that there are things happening in your living room or any other private space, that you do not want to share with the rest of the world. Let alone, upload it to a public AR Cloud provider, so that everyone can search it."
Instead, Wikitude favors an approach that lets users decide what they share and with whom they share it, where it will appear, and who long it will persist. That way, a core design team can collaborate on a new product in a conference room, hide it when they leave, and bring it back up when they return. Or a massively multiplayer AR game can continue over a period between two teams rather without a stray Leroy Jenkins charging in.
"The capabilities of the concept of AR Cloud are useful for many applications and use-cases. But, many of them will not be captured by an AR Cloud that only maps the public world and offers that as the ground plane for AR experiences," wrote Nagele. "By saving, loading, and sharing an augmented experience, AR finally becomes what it promised to be since its beginning: a technology that will overcome all known limitations of time and space."
Now that we've differentiated between the AR Cloud and micro AR clouds, we can proceed with the specific features of Wikitude 8 that enable saving, loading, and sharing.
For saving, Wikitude 8 introduces Extended Object Tracking. This enables apps to trigger content that persistent after the camera view has panned away from the marker or left the location altogether.
Scene Recognition adds the capability to load content by recognizing real-world landmarks, from rooms and machinery to buildings and industrial centers to even wider landscapes. Similar to other visual localization protocols from Google and Blippar, Scene Recognition offers greater precision than GPS and gives apps an understanding of the real world.
Finally, Instant Targets fulfills the sharing piece of the pie by enabling users to save and share AR experiences (not just an image or video of a single interaction) and giving multiple users the ability to add on to the experience in real time. Instant Targets is compatible with iOS and Android, as well as the Universal Windows Platform.
In addition, Wikitude is commemorating its 10th anniversary (and more than one billion app installs) by adding a free pricing tier for startups.
"Wikitude is committed to making AR more accessible to companies in early stages. Providing free access to our top-notch tech is the best way to celebrate Wikitude's 10-year mark", said Paula Monteiro, marketing director at Wikitude.
With SDK 8, Wikitude jumps ahead to the head of the pack with regards to AR Cloud capabilities that are openly accessible now. However, with ARKit 2.0 expected to arrive as a beta next week, it remains to be seen how long it remains there.