Layar, the augmented reality platform, is trying to foster a new form of content and also bring that content to a wider audience. Doing both is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Usually the Amsterdam-based startup puts its efforts into the distribution side by creating its own applications, signing device partnerships and (coming soon) offering an embedded version of its browser for mobile app developers. But every once in a while Layar has to develop its own augmented reality content to demonstrate what other people might not be imagining or thinking possible yet.
A quick bit of background: Augmented reality is the concept of adding a real-time, interactive overlay to the physical world. It’s moving out of science fiction and into reality with the help of today’s smartphones and their processors, cameras, accelerometers, compass, GPS and screens.
Layar CEO Raimo van der Klein says he sees a transition to visual augmented reality from purely geographical augmented reality happening. So instead of being directed to YouTube (s GOOG) videos shot or Tweets posted from your vicinity, you might be able to view and shop in an up-and-coming designer’s virtual store if you load up the Layar app and direct it to the street of a major real-world shopping district that in reality only has big brand name retailers.
What would be even cooler is using augmented reality to play three-dimensional virtual games with our friends that map to the world around us. So Layar has created a demo of a multiplayer game, which it showed off at the Google Zeitgeist conference earlier this month to high praise (at least according to van der Klein). Users compete to shoot down spaceships with lasers, using their own separate phones. They each see the same door, the same ships, even the other person’s laser, and it’s all mapped onto the actual walls and floor and objects in the environment around them. Here’s a video here of how it looks:
As van der Klein describes it:
You start the game if one of the two players shoots at the portal at the wall. When the wall opens spaceships start to fly out. By shooting spaceships points can be earned. Fast spaceships get you more points. After 20 seconds the game ends. We made it short as we were aiming for quick gaming since most people play on the go and don’t have time to play longer.
He also gave a little more detail on the technology behind the game, which Layar plans to release more widely in a few weeks:
- The demo makes use of streaming protocols used for IM to create an online multiplayer environment where multiple players can tap into at the same time.
- The other is use of sensor fusion technology where the browser analyses all input it gets from all the different sensors. It chooses the most reliable ones to determine the phone’s position.
- In this demo, Layar uses markers to help position the 3D grid on top reality as players are indoors and don’t have GPS.
Layar apps have been downloaded 3 million times and have more than 1 million active users per month, according to van der Klein. The company raised $3.4 million in a Series A round earlier this year from Sunstone Capital and Prime Technology Ventures.
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