4 Reasons Developers are Thrilled for Augmented Reality Indoor Navigation

Here in the middle of 2017, the biggest players in tech continue to rapidly develop consumer-grade augmented reality. Apple’s ARKit is about to release, bringing AR to millions of new users. Google continues its steady march forward with Project Tango, and specialized solutions like Pointr are finding their niche.

Analysts at Digi-Capital estimate that augmented reality usage will skyrocket starting in 2018. By 2021, the trend shows that over 60 billion users will use some type of mobile AR.

What’s the bottom line? The battle for augmented reality market share is escalating. At the same time, innovators have an immense opportunity. Consumers are about to be very thirsty for useful AR apps, and the technology to deliver them is almost here.

One especially interesting application of AR is indoor navigation. The use cases are varied, and the demand could be huge. Perhaps best of all, Digi-Capital shows that investors are starting to take notice. Here are some of the most important things happening in that space.

Fully Deployed Solutions from Pointr

Augmented Reality indoor navigation is still a wide-open field. There is a great deal of thought and research going into the technology, but very little finished product on the market.

One company that has managed to deploy the technology is Pointr Labs. Focusing on large enterprise and government clients, Pointr has augmented reality navigation systems in use around Europe.

The most recent Pointr installation is at Gatwick Airport (LGW). Passengers use a smartphone app to locate their gates, food, and shopping.

LGW hopes to integrate the app with airlines’ existing apps to add features like automatically locating passengers’ gates based their boarding passes, and alerting people when it’s time to start walking towards their flight.

It’s impressive, but expensive. The Pointr technology relies on a network of Bluetooth beacons for indoor positioning. Scores of beacons are required to ensure accuracy through triangulation, with approximately 2,000 installed at Gatwick.

Harrod’s and Sainsbury’s department stores also recently installed AR indoor navigation systems from Pointr. Harrod’s in particular is an enormous store, boasting over 1 million square feet of shopping spread over several levels. The Pointr-powered app helps shoppers find their way, and handily points them towards sales and specials.

It’s a great example of marketing through providing value. The consumer gets to use a fun and useful navigation app, and in return the stores can suggest items for sale.

Leveraging the HoloLens with Stimulant

Pointr operates on a very large scale, and it isn’t feasible for many businesses. Researchers are working to develop AR navigation solutions on a more accessible level. One such lab is Stimulant.

Stimulant describes itself as an “innovation space” that crafts “human-scale, site-specific digital experiences.” Their focus is transitory experiences like tradeshow booths and art projects, but they’ve created something genuinely impressive in navigation.

Using the Microsoft HoloLens, a dedicated augmented reality headset, Stimulant created an app to take visitors around their office. Users can ask Cortana (the Siri-like Microsoft voice interface) for directions to various rooms, and a walkable path appears in their vision.

This is really a tech demo, and there’s an element of showmanship to it. Stimulant created the map by using HoloLens to scan their office, and then manually added landmarks like cubicles, and the paths around them. The system operates entirely through visual recognition of these landmarks, and it likely wouldn’t hold up if the office were rearranged, or even if it were crowded with people.

The Stimulant app may not be a finished product, but it does show the possibilities of the technology. Saying aloud “Take me to the conference room” and being shown the way is an appealing idea right out of Star Trek. The first companies to successfully scale the experience will do very well for themselves.

The Google Perspective on Augmented Reality Indoor Navigation

Widespread HoloLens adoption isn’t coming anytime soon, though. The real future of AR is in smartphones. Both major phone OS developers are working hard on augmented reality SDKs, and both are worth investigating.

Google’s AR platform, currently called Project Tango, has been in the public eye the longest. The specs were released in 2014, and the first Tango-equipped Android phones hit the market in 2016. These phones are beefed up with extra processing power and cameras suitable to create 3D maps of their surroundings.

Indoor navigation is a strong component of Project Tango. At the 2016 Mobile World Congress, Google showed off an app that could direct museum-goers to different paintings. AR is well-suited for a museum, as it is for retail. The Tango device could provide history and information about paintings as the visitor reaches them.

It’s been several years since Tango first came on the scene, and it has yet to reach the mainstream. Assuming the phones sell, though, apps could take advantage of an enormous already-existing ecosystem, and Google’s expertise with crowdsourcing. Google hopes to leverage its experience with Waze to create indoor maps based on real user data.

Most people don’t yet have a Tango phone, but specialized markets will always exist. Cydalion is a uniquely innovative app currently exclusive to Tango. It’s targeted at users with impaired vision.

Cydalion constantly maps the area in front of the user, and alerts them via audio of obstacles and turns. Essentially, the app is an electronic guide dog. It’s invaluable to the right people.

Apple ARKit Could Take AR Mainstream

Apple recently entered the AR game with an SDK called ARKit. Although it’s in its early stages, ARKit looks like it may beat out Project Tango.

The kicker with Google’s solution is that it does require a “Tango-equipped” phone. Reaching large install numbers will take a new generation of devices. The research shows that people are hanging onto their existing phones for longer than ever, and that could spell delays for Tango installs.

By contrast, ARKit works out of the box with any Apple device capable of running iOS 11. Compatibility goes all the way back to the iPhone 5S, released in 2013. When ARKit apps start hitting the App Store, they’ll find waiting for them an install base approaching 1 billion.

As for the features of ARKit, we have an extensive list prepared by AppReal-VR CEO Yariv Levski. ARKit is like the Ford Model T of augmented reality apps. Although other solutions exist, Apple’s is built for the mass market. It will enjoy the largest market for potentially years to come.

With its built-in hooks to the Unity and Unreal engines, ARKit can provide visually stunning augmented reality experiences with a relatively few development resources. Augmented reality games, advertising, and of course indoor navigation apps will be more accessible than ever before, both to developers and users.

Tim Cook put it best. “The smartphone is for everyone, we don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s HUGE.”

How to Build an AR App for Indoor Navigation

So, like Mr. Cook says, augmented reality is about to be huge. This is a turning point in the tech industry, and it’s an opportunity to reach massive install numbers with an ARKit app.

Indoor navigation is one of the most obviously beneficial use cases for AR, and it has the market advantage of being highly localized. A school could use its own indoor navigation app. So could a hospital. Or an office building, or any large indoor setting you might think of.

The technical ins and outs of developing an app take professional training, but we’ve assembled a brief guide here. ARKit streamlines the process, and its integration with Unity and Unreal means many developers already have applicable skillsets.

To streamline the process even further, we recommend a chat with one of our consultants. AppReal-VR has years of experience in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mobile. In other words, we deal with cutting-edge tech every day.

Our satisfied clients include organizations large and small in industries ranging from healthcare to gaming. We use an agile development methodology to ensure that the developing app meets your vision every step of the way. If you would like to see where augmented reality and indoor navigation might fit into your business, visit our Services Page to arrange a call.

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