augmented reality

Pokémon GO update bringing ‘mon from the Sinnoh region is live

Posted by | Apps, augmented reality, Gaming, Mobile, niantic, pokemon, Pokémon Go | No Comments

If you’ve been laying off the Pokémon GO for a while due to a lack of new monsters, prepare to be glued to your phone again. Niantic is now adding pokémon from the rugged Sinnoh region that first appeared in 2007’s Diamond, Pearl and Platinum games.

Of course, it’s not so simple as a dump of a hundred new ‘mon into your area. The new guys are arriving in waves, likely meaning the most common sorts will start appearing today, while cooler ones and sets of themed critters will arrive over the coming weeks.

These are part of the Generation 4 set, but it’s not clear yet which will be appearing first or indeed at all. It’s entirely up to Niantic and you can be sure they’re going to mete out these little guys over several months, interspersed with other events — anything to keep you catching.

Everyone will probably have a Chimchar on their shoulder soon, because that sucker is cute, but ultimately everyone is going to want a Dialga. I get the feeling they’re going to be a regular feature at gyms soon. I for one will be working to evolve a Glaceon.

There are also some new evolutions, so don’t trash your mid-tier pokémon just yet. Magmortar, Electivire, Tangrowth and Rhyperior mean you’ll have a use for all that extra candy.

Update your app and start draining that battery, Trainer! And don’t forget that we’ve got Niantic’s Ross Finman at our AR/VR Session in LA this Thursday. Drop by if you’re in the area.

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Magic Leap One’s first big game is another Angry Birds; here’s what it’s like

Posted by | augmented reality, Gaming, Magic Leap, TC | No Comments

Magic Leap promised us a world of dreams, we’re getting Angry Birds.

After about a month in the public spotlight, the Magic Leap One is starting to get its first titles. Rovio and Resolution Games announced publicly today that they will be releasing Angry Birds FPS: First Person Slingshot this fall for the Magic Leap One.

It’s an actual game, not just a little tech demo. I had a chance to play with the soon-to-be-released title and it’s actually pretty refreshing and fun making the futuristic hardware feel a little less alien.

It wasn’t my first bout with Magic Leap’s new hardware, but it was the first time that I truly appreciated what improvements it boasts over headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

You could probably beat the 20 levels of Angry Birds FPS in around an hour, but I started fumbling and having to seriously strategize after just a few of them, though like many others I can honestly say I haven’t played an Angry Birds title since I had an iPhone 3GS so it’s been a minute.

That said, the mechanics are pretty familiar in that you’re trying to knock over a little tower of blocks and the green pigs that inhabit their far reaches. What’s unique is that the tower is now stacked on your coffee table that you can approach from any angle and the Magic Leap controller is your slingshot that you can aim a lot more precisely as a result.

The Resolution Games team said that they had previously been experimenting with Microsoft’s headset but it was Magic Leap’s positionally tracked controller that really opened up the headset to develop something like a full gaming title.

It’s kind of interesting that Apple’s main ARKit 2 demo and Magic Leap’s first full title are slingshot games, but I guess you find what works and move from there.

The title isn’t ground-breaking by any means in terms of enabling some sort of futuristic AR use case, but perhaps the most unusual thing about it was how familiar it felt. Part of that is obviously the IP with Angry Birds but it’s also a game that doesn’t ask you to freestyle too much and doesn’t give you a world of options. It felt like a mobile game, if only one that allowed you to visualize the mobile content overlaid on the world in front of you.

You learn to deal with limitations like field-of-view and there does seem to be a lot developers can do to minimize that being the only thing you focus on. It’s kind of bizarre that Magic Leap didn’t actually ship the headset with more content like this because the short demos that came onboard the One Creator’s Edition really didn’t sell it too well. Fortunately, the device is definitely a developer’s edition and it seems that even by the company’s developer conference next month, more content seems to be on the way from partners like Resolution Games and Rovio who have been building this title since January as an early partner of Magic Leap.

Magic Leap One may not be the headset everyone wanted it to be — or what the company told us it would be — but judging by the first big title coming to it, it seems like it gets enough right that developers are going to have a fun time with it even if it is just a labor of love for them right now.

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Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, iOS apps, kayak, Mobile, travel | No Comments

Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size so you can find out if it fits in the overhead bin – you know, before your trip.

The tool is handy because the dimensions of permitted carry-on luggage can differ from airline to airline, Kayak explains, so it’s not as simple these days to figure out if your bag will fit.

In the new Kayak iOS app, you can access the measurement tool through the Flight Search feature.

The app will first prompt you to scan the floor in order to calibrate the measurements. You then move your phone around the bag to capture its size. Kayak’s app will do the math and return the bag’s size, in terms of length, width, and height.

And it will tell you if the bag “looks good” or not to meet the carry-on size requirements.

Plus, the company says it compares all the airlines’ baggage size requirements in one place, so you’ll know for sure if it will be allowed by the airline you’re flying.

Augmented reality applications, so far, have been a mixed bag. (Sorry).

Some applications can be fairly useful  – like visualizing furniture placed in a room or trying on new makeup colors. (Yes, really. I’m serious). But others are more questionable – like some AR gaming apps, perhaps. (For example, how long would you play that AR slingshot game?)

But one area where AR has held up better is in helping you measure stuff with your phone – so much so that even Apple threw in its own AR measuring tape with iOS 12.

Kayak’s tool, also timed with the release of iOS 12, is among those more practical applications.

The company says the AR feature is currently only live on updated iOS devices.

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Ebay’s HeadGaze lets motor-impaired users navigate the site with head movements

Posted by | accessibility, Apps, augmented reality, eBay, Gadgets, hardware, TC | No Comments

The sophisticated head-tracking system like the one built into the iPhone X may have been intended for AR and security purposes, but it may also turn out to be very useful for people with disabilities. A proof of concept app from an eBay intern shows how someone with very little motor function can navigate the site with nothing but head movements.

Muratcan Çiçek is one such person, and relies on assistive technology every day to read, work and get around. This year he was interning at eBay and decided to create a tool that would help people with motor impairments like his to shop online. Turns out there are lots of general-purpose tools for accessibility, like letting a user control a cursor with their eyes or a joystick, but nothing made just for navigating a site like eBay or Amazon.

His creation, HeadGaze, relies on the iPhone X’s front-facing sensor array (via ARKit) to track the user’s head movements. Different movements correspond to different actions in a demonstration app that shows the online retailer’s daily deals: navigate through categories and products by tilting your head all the way in various directions, or tilt partway down to buy, save or share.

You can see it in action in the short video below:

It’s not that this is some huge revolution in interface — there are some apps and services that do this, though perhaps not in such a straightforward and extensible way as this.

But it’s easy to underestimate the cognitive load created when someone has to navigate a UI that’s designed around senses or limbs they don’t have. To create something like this isn’t necessarily simple, but it’s useful and relatively straightforward, and the benefits to a person like Çiçek are substantial.

That’s probably why he made the HeadGaze project open source — you can get all the code and documentation at GitHub; it’s all in Swift and currently only works on the iPhone X, but it’s a start.

Considering this was a summer project by an intern, there’s not much of an excuse for companies with thousands of developers to not have something like it available for their apps or storefronts. And it’s not like you couldn’t think of other ways to use it. As Çiçek writes:

HeadGaze enables you to scroll and interact on your phone with only subtle head movements. Think of all the ways that this could be brought to life. Tired of trying to scroll through a recipe on your phone screen with greasy fingers while cooking? Too messy to follow the how-to manual on your cell phone while you’re tinkering with the car engine under the hood? Too cold to remove your gloves to use your phone?

He and his colleagues are also looking into actual gaze-tracking to augment the head movements, but that’s still a ways off. Maybe you can help.

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Fast-growing game engine startup Unity loses its CFO

Posted by | augmented reality, Gaming, Personnel, Virtual reality | No Comments

Unity Technologies, the highly valued startup behind one of the most popular game development tools, lost its CFO Mike Foley last week, Business Insider (paywalled) reported.

A company spokesperson confirmed the CFO’s departure, saying it was a “friendly and mutual decision between both parties,” while also noting that the company was searching for a replacement and had some candidates and hoped to announce more details soon.

In a statement, Foley told TechCrunch, “I look forward to seeing Unity’s continued success under its strong leadership team.”

Unity has raised north of $600 million at a valuation over $3 billion, CEO John Riccitiello confirmed to us earlier this week. In an interview at our Disrupt SF 2018 conference, Riccitiello told TechCrunch that the company’s game engine platform now powers about half of all new games.

In April, Riccitiello told the publication Cheddar that the company was on the “general path” toward an IPO. “We’re not putting out dates but I do believe the company is strong enough financially to go public now.”

The company is not the only third-party game engine tool available for developers, but Unity has become a favorite for indie developers due in large part to the breadth of integrations for various game platforms and the ease of deploying to them. The game engine company was started 14 years ago scraped from the remains of a failed video game title, but has begun to grow rapidly in the past couple years particularly due to investor bullishness around AR/VR and the potential for a real-time rendering engine to shape everything from manufacturing design to autonomous systems training.

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Foley left his position in June, rather than last week.

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Teardown of Magic Leap One reveals highly advanced placeholder tech

Posted by | augmented reality, Gadgets, hardware, ifixit, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, TC, teardown, Wearables | No Comments

The screwdriver-happy dismantlers at iFixit have torn the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset all to pieces, and the takeaway seems to be that the device is very much a work in progress — but a highly advanced one. Its interesting optical assembly, described as “surprisingly ugly,” is laid bare for all to see.

The head-mounted display and accompanying computing unit are definitely meant for developers, as we know, but the basic methods and construction Magic Leap is pursuing are clear from this initial hardware. It’s unlikely that there will be major changes to how the gadget works except to make it cheaper, lighter and more reliable.

At the heart of Magic Leap’s tech is its AR display, which overlays 3D images over and around the real world. This is accomplished through a stack of waveguides that allow light to pass along them invisibly, then bounce it out toward your eye from the proper angle to form the image you see.

The “ugly” assembly in question; pic courtesy of iFixit

The waveguide assembly has six layers: one for each color channel (red, blue and green) twice over, arranged so that by adjusting the image you can change the perceived distance and size of the object being displayed.

There isn’t a lot out there like this, and certainly nothing intended for consumer use, so we can forgive Magic Leap for shipping something a little bit inelegant by iFixit’s standards: “The insides of the lenses are surprisingly ugly, with prominent IR LEDs, a visibly striated waveguide “display” area, and some odd glue application.”

After all, the insides of devices like the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9 should and do reflect a more mature hardware ecosystem and many iterations of design along the same lines. This is a unique, first-of-its-kind device and as a devkit the focus is squarely on getting the functionality out there. It will almost certainly be refined in numerous ways to avoid future chiding by hardware snobs.

That’s also evident from the eye-tracking setup, which from its position at the bottom of the eye will likely perform better when you’re looking down and straight ahead rather than upwards. Future versions may include more robust tracking systems.

Another interesting piece is the motion-tracking setup. A little box hanging off the edge of the headset is speculated to be the receiver for the magnetic field-based motion controller. I remember using magnetic interference motion controllers back in 2010 — no doubt there have been improvements, but this doesn’t seem to be particularly cutting-edge tech. An improved control scheme can probably be expected in future iterations, as this little setup is pretty much independent of the rest of the device’s operation.

Let’s not judge Magic Leap on this interesting public prototype — let us instead judge them on the farcically ostentatious promises and eye-popping funding of the last few years. If they haven’t burned through all that cash, there are years of development left in the creation of a practical and affordable consumer device using these principles and equipment. Many more teardowns to come!

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Facebook builds its own AR games for Messenger video chat

Posted by | Apps, augmented reality, Augmented Reality Games, Developer, Facebook, facebook messenger, Facebook Messenger Instant Games, Gaming, Mobile, Snapchat Snappables, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook is diving deeper into in-house game development with the launch of its own version of Snapchat’s multiplayer augmented reality video chat games. Today, Facebook Messenger globally launches its first two AR video chat games that you can play with up to six people.

“Don’t Smile” is like a staring contest that detects if you grin, and then uses AR to contort your face into an exaggerated Joker’s smirk while awarding your opponent the win. “Asteroids Attack” sees you move your face around to navigate a space ship, avoiding rocks and grabbing laser beam powerups. Soon, Facebook also plans to launch “Beach Bump” for passing an AR ball back and forth, and a “Kitten Craze” cat matching game. To play the games, you start a video chat, hit the star button to open the filter menu, then select one of the games. You can snap and share screenshots to your chat thread while you play.

The games are effectively a way to pass the time while you video chat, rather than something you’d ever play on your own. They could be a hit with parents and grandparents who are away and want to spend time with a kid…who isn’t exactly the best conversationalist.

Facebook tells me it built these games itself using the AR Studio tool it launched last year to let developers create their own AR face filters. When asked if game development would be available to everyone through AR studio, a spokesperson told me, “Not today, but we’ve seen successful short-session AR games developed by the creator community and are always looking out for ways to bring the best AR content to the FB family of apps.”

For now, there will be no ads, sponsored branding or in-app purchases in Messenger’s video chat games. But those all offer opportunities for Facebook and potentially outside developers to earn money. Facebook could easily show an ad interstitial between game rounds, let brands build games to promote movie releases or product launches or let you buy powerups to beat friends or cosmetically upgrade your in-game face.

Snapchat’s Snappables games launched in April

The games feel less polished than the launch titles for Snapchat’s Snappables gaming platform that launched in April. Snapchat focused on taking over your whole screen with augmented reality, transporting you into space or a disco dance hall. Facebook’s games merely overlay a few graphics on the world around you. But Facebook’s games are more purposefully designed for split-screen multiplayer. Snapchat is reportedly building its own third-party game development platform, but it seems Facebook wanted to get the drop on it.

The AR video chat games live separately from the Messenger Instant Games platform the company launched last year. These include arcade classics and new mobile titles that users can play by themselves and challenge friends over high-scores. Facebook now allows developers of Instant Games to monetize with in-app purchases and ads, foreshadowing what could come to AR video chat games.

Facebook has rarely developed its own games. It did build a few mini-games, like an arcade pop-a-shot style basketball game and a soccer game to show off what the Messenger Instant Games platform could become. But typically it’s stuck to letting outside developers lead. Here, it may be trying to set examples of what developers should build before actually spawning a platform around video chat games.

Now with more than 1.3 billion users, Facebook Messenger is seeking more ways to keep people engaged. Having already devoured many people’s one-on-one utility chats, it’s fun group chats, video calling and gaming that could get people spending more time in the app.

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Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X

Posted by | alibaba group, Andreessen Horowitz, AR, augmented reality, Gadgets, Google, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, mixed reality, United States, Virtual reality, wearable devices, Wearables | No Comments

It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295.

So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device (although Magic Leap’s founder frothed about it being “at the border of practical for everybody” in an interview with the Verge) but rather an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

Here we go. Magic Leap One Creator Edition is now available to purchase. So if you’re a #developer, creator or explorer, join us as we venture deeper into the world of #spatialcomputing. Take the leap at https://t.co/8HbsM1yNQo #FreeYourMind pic.twitter.com/mpEqNFltlo

— Magic Leap (@magicleap) August 8, 2018

A ‘Pro’ version of the kit — with an extra hub cable and some kind of rapid replacement service if the kit breaks — costs an additional $495, according to CNET. While certain (possibly necessary) extras such as prescription lenses also cost more. So it’s pushing towards 3x iPhone Xes at that point.

The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.

Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.

We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

CNET reports that the headset is only available in six U.S. cities at this stage: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle — with Magic Leap saying that “many” more will be added in fall.

The company specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”. So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, i.e. with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technically and creatively minded people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

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Snap is reportedly about to launch its own gaming platform

Posted by | augmented reality, Gaming, Snap, Snapchat | No Comments

Snap is seeking to explore new ground as it tries to outrun Instagram’s efforts to copy its features. Its newest effort may be building out a bona fide hub for gaming inside Snapchat, according to a new report from The Information. The platform will launch later this year, the report says, and Snap is already signing on game publishers to participate in its efforts.

We reached out to Snap for comment.

The news makes a lot of sense, given the efforts Snap has increasingly been pouring into its own Lens Studio software for developers to create its specialized AR filters. Snap reportedly bought a web-based 3D game engine last year, called PlayCanvas, which would serve as a good backbone for even more robust developer tools.

It’s not clear from the report whether these gaming titles would be focused largely on AR gaming, though one might expect it given all of the attention Snap has paid to the emerging mobile platform.

In April, the company launched “Snappables,” which were basically short selfie AR games that integrate easily into Snapchat’s Lens selection UI.

Augmented reality applications really benefit from sidling up closely to a camera platform, where you can snap a photo or record some video of an encounter with an AR T-Rex. This thinking benefits Snap. Snap is probably not competing with Google’s ARCore or Apple’s ARKit anymore; with these technologies, Snap simply seems to be striving to be the app that’s home to several of these experiences. This is an advantage Snapchat still seems to hold over Facebook and Instagram’s in-app cameras, which anecdotally don’t seem to be used very heavily by users, though the companies have not released usage numbers.

Snap won’t exactly be blazing the trail with messaging-based gaming experiences. Facebook Messenger has already experimented with short, shareable mini-games. As noted by The Information report, CEO Evan Spiegel has expressed admiration for Tencent’s business model, which sees nearly 40 percent of its revenues come from in-game purchases in the WeChat app. If the gaming platform did have a skew toward augmented reality, that would certainly be a unique proposition — though many of AR’s promises have still been unrealized as developers grapple with what makes an engaging experience.

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This AR guppy feeds on the spectrum of human emotion

Posted by | Apps, augmented reality, e3 2018, Gaming, Startups | No Comments

Indiecade always offers a nice respite from the wall of undulating human flesh and heat that is the rest of the E3 show floor. The loose confederation of independent developers often produces compelling and bizarre gaming experiences outside of the big studio system.

TendAR is the most compelling example of this out of this year’s batch. It is, simply put, a pet fish that feeds on human emotions through augmented reality. I can’t really explain why this is a thing, but it is. It’s a video game, so just accept it and move on.

The app is produced by Tender Claws, a small studio out of Los Angeles best known for Virtual Virtual Reality, an Oculus title that boasts among its “key features”: 50-plus unique virtual virtual realities and an artichoke screams at you.

TendAR fits comfortably within that manner of absurdist framework, though the title has more in common with virtual pets like Tamagotchi and the belovedly bizarre Dreamcast cult hit, Seaman. There’s also a bit of Douglas Adams wrapped up in there, in that your pet guppy feeds on human emotions detected through face detection.

The app is designed for two players, both holding onto the same phone, feigning different emotions when prompted by a chatty talking fish. If you fail to give it what it wants, your fish will suffer. I tried the game and my guppy died almost immediately. Apparently my ability to approximate sadness is severely lacking. Tell it to my therapist, am I right?

The app is due out this year for Android.

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