Faster smartphones, more processing cores, increased data bandwidth, and larger screens all-together form a sort-of perfect storm for augmented reality apps. We’ve seen the beginning of what AR can offer, but the technology still has plenty of room for improvement. One technique that promises to greatly enhance the ability of a hand-held device to determine its position in 3D space is known as SLAM, and it’s starting to make its way to tablets and smartphones.
Simultaneous localization and mapping means that a system gathers data about its environment in real-time, and uses that data to continuously update an internal map of its surroundings. Autonomous robots can use SLAM to navigate unfamiliar terrain, just as a smartphone can use it to figure out where it’s located within a room.
Sweden’s 13th Lab has come up with a SLAM system that uses the data from the camera along with the motion sensors on a mobile device to get a pretty good bearing on its position and heading. Its first effort is an iPad 2 game called Ball Invasion that uses SLAM-based AR to create a field of spheres that appear to float in 3D space, fixed in relation to your surroundings. The software recognizes boundaries, and allows you to bounce virtual bullets off of real-world walls.
While this first 13th Lab game is more of a tech demo than anything, it’s a tantalizing look at what might be possible from AR in the near future.