Software developers are more and more frequently employing Augmented Reality engines to create new and exciting AR toys and games to form a trend in mobile development. Although there is no such thing as the “perfect” AR engine, here are some popular engines currently being used by designers and developers.
The most popular AR/VR/MR platform in use today, over 90% of HoloLens AR experiences have been made using the Unity platform. One of the most advanced game engines available, Unity also supports Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View. Using Unity, third party hardware manufacturers can easily create their own plugins and software development kits (SDKs). Being resource intensive, however, Unity’s considerable CPU usage can noticeably slow down the performance of some applications. Speaking at this year’s Augmented World Expo in Silicon Valley, Tony Parisi, head of Unity Technologies’ VR/AR Strategy, confirmed Unity’s strong belief in immersive reality’s continued growth, which includes the company’s plans to continue investing heavily in AR research and development.
Designed to create AR applications for mobile devices, Vuforia’s Augmented Reality SDK uses computer vision technology to identify and track image targets and basic 3D objects in real time. Compatible with Android, iOS, UWP and Unity Editor platforms, one of Vuforia’s primary benefits is its simple setup procedure that makes it easy to create a development environment, install the correct SDK version and build an application. The basic version of Vuforia is free, although it includes Vuforia watermarks and a minimum set of tools. Developers get more features when applying for a paid plan. Using images such as cubes, cuboids or cylinders as targets, Vuforia closely mimics 3D tracking. Increasing the number of tracking methods, however, would tend to make Vuforia a more competitive player.
Kudan utilizes its proprietary SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology to concurrently localize a sensor in relation to its surroundings, while at the same time mapping a 3D structure of the surrounding area. Kudan has licensed SLAM to outside development partners in several emerging technologies, including drones, robotics and self-driving cars. SLAM can be used with any camera or sensor, and its tracking accuracy on smartphone cameras is accurate down to millimeters. The high speed /low consumption system uses less than 5% of a mobile device’s CPU, and will continue to function under extreme lighting conditions. Kudan offers developers a free version for testing, although a production license costs £1,000 per application per year.
EasyAR is offered in both a free Basic version and the Pro version, which carries a $499 licensing fee. Winner of the 2016 World Augmented Reality Expo’s Best Software Award, EasyAR is capable of simultaneously recognizing and tracking multiple 3D objects in real time. Available in versions for iOS and Android, EasyAR can be used with both PCs and mobile devices. Other pluses include the absence of watermarks and no recognition time limitations. As with ARToolKit, some users, however, have reported difficulties with EasyAR’s image stability.
ARToolKit 6 is a free, open source recognition and tracking SDK that lets computers see and understand more of the surrounding environment. Available in iOS, Android, Linux, Widows Visual Studio and Windows 8.1, ARToolKit 6’s minimal licensing restrictions allow AR developers as well as researchers, educators and even amateurs and hobbyists to create new applications. Owned by research lab DAQRI, ARToolKit 6 works without a network connection, and is capable of tracking and recognizing multiple images simultaneously at speeds measured in milliseconds. A potential drawback to ArToolKit6 is that even though the marker quality is high, 2D and 3D images are visibly somewhat unstable.
Maxst specializes in providing AR software solutions to a variety of industries, including fashion, publication, travel & leisure and advertising. The company launched their first Augmented Reality SDK in South Korea, and later created and introduced the AR Virtual Fitting System that lets shoppers try on clothing and apparel before making a purchase. Other Maxst products and services include image processing, Augmented Reality tours and AR games. Maxst, however, doesn’t offer Geolocation, Cloud recognition or SLAM support.
ARCore is tech giant Google’s SDK for creating Augmented Reality applications intended to compete with Apple’s ARKit. ARCore replaces Google’s recently discontinued Tango tool kit, which was originally meant to develop AR applications on special hardware equipped with depth-measuring sensors. The recently released preview version of ARCore is basically an updated and improved version of Tango, but without the need for specialized hardware. According to Dave Burke, Google’s Android Engineer VP, the company hopes to capture 100 million, or 5% of the estimated 2 billion active Android devices now in use by the end of the preview period.
There is no such thing as a single “Best” AR platform today. Each has their own advantages and shortcomings, but as with all else in the digital world, significant advancements are being developed and introduced almost daily.
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