Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Serious Games: Multi-Player Handheld Augmented Reality

Multi-user Augmented Reality on handheld devices


Courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

The Invisible Train is the first real multi-user Augmented Reality application for handheld devices (PDAs). Unlike other projects, in which wearable devices were merely used as thin-clients, while powerful (PC-based) servers performed a majority of the computations, this software runs independently on off-the-shelf PDAs

Inspired by Macello's inquiry on my previous post Projecting Serious Games Onto the Real World: "When will this mobile (AR) be launched?" and by the fantastic research and early breakthroughs achieved by Daniel Wagner, via the Institute of Computer Graphics and Vision (ICG).


Courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

The Invisible Train is a mobile, collaborative multi-user Augmented Reality (AR) game, in which players control virtual trains on a real wooden miniature railroad track. These virtual trains are only visible to players through their PDA's video see-through display as they don't exist in the physical world. This type of user interface is commonly called the "magic lens metaphor".

NOTE: Daniel Wagner is a computer science doctoral candidate and received his MSc from Vienna University of Technology. Daniel currently has a job as a researcher at Graz University of Technology, doing his PhD thesis on truly mobile Augmented Reality. His current research interests are real-time graphics and massively multi-user augmented reality on mobile devices.


Courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

Prior work on mobile Augmented Reality has almost exclusively been undertaken with traditional "backpack"-systems that consist of a notebook computer, an HMD, cameras and additional supporting hardware. The ICG believes that handheld computers, mobile phones and personal digital assistants have the potential to introduce Augmented Reality to large audiences outside of a constrained laboratory environment.

In the attempt to respond to Marcello's inquiry, my first impulse was to adopt a conservative approach by saying:

Augmented Reality is still in an early stage of research and development at various universities and high-tech companies. According to nVidia CEO Jen Hsun Huang, the next biggest thing that can be expected is computer vision or what is termed "augmented reality" where the computer will be able to see you. For example, the PC would turn itself on when it sees you or one could drive through fog through 3D graphic displays in cars. The wonderful thing is that what was thought of as sci-fi stuff is actually happening today. No one could have imagined videophones or camera phones would be a reality. He is sure we will see augmented reality technology in a decade's time. He believes that it takes around 10 years for sci-fi dreams to turn into reality.


Courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

However, the Institute Of Computer Graphics and Vision research on
Handheld Augmented Reality, states that standard, off-the-shelf PDA constitutes a cost-effective and lightweight hardware platform for Augmented Reality.


Courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

A PDA provides a simple, well-known user interface, and is fully equipped with a touch-screen and camera for providing a video see-through Magic Lens metaphor of interaction. In their Handheld AR framework, all interactive processing is done exclusively on the PDA without relying on a server infrastructure, which makes this solution highly scalable.

Because of the low cost and suitable ergonomic properties of the PDA platform, massive multi-user AR application become possible for the first time. It is the goal of this project to demonstrate the first multi-user AR applications with dozens of simultaneous users.

In their Handheld AR framework, all interactive processing is done exclusively on the PDA without relying on a server infrastructure, which makes this solution highly scalable. Because of the low cost and suitable ergonomic properties of the PDA platform, massive multi-user AR application become possible for the first time. It is the goal of this project to demonstrate the first multi-user AR applications with dozens of simultaneous users soon.

Their software framework Studierstube 4.0 represents the first attempt at creating a complete solution for AR on PDAs. It operates cross-platform (Windows, Linux, Windows.CE) and addresses graphics, video, tracking, multimedia playback, persistent storage, multi-user synchronisation and application authoring tools.

I personally believe that it will take much less than a decade for AR games to go live. Making a guess "on the back of the evelope", I would say something between a min. of 1 and a max. of 3 years.