Layar Augments Reality With $14M in New Funding

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Layar, creator of a mobile augmented reality (AR) platform, today announced a $14 million funding round led by Intel Capital. The Layar platform combines the location functionality and integrated camera built into many smartphones; users can view their actual surroundings through the camera, but the view is supplemented with additional visuals and data.

Although Layar emerged as a downloadable app / browser first for Google Android and later for Apple’s iPhone, calling Layar an app is incomplete. Layar is also a platform that supports informational layers of virtual data. Think of these layers like those on Google Maps: You can view or hide the traffic layer, for example. Developers can build their own layers for the Layar platform to show pictures taken nearby or where the closest ATM is.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with Layar co-founder, Maarten Lens-FitzGerald to get a sense for how the new funding will be used. “We have three main plans,” he told me over the phone. “First, we want to upgrade our infrastructure and ensure we have a good organization in place. Second, we’re looking at creating a new interface to the world. For example, how does a bookmark work in augmented reality?”

That’s an interesting aspect, which gave me pause, because unlike the traffic data atop Google Maps, Layar isn’t just about finding information. It’s meant to provide “impactful augmented reality experiences for people’s everyday lives,” Lens-FitzGerald told me. The way users interact with that experience is still maturing because the interface is unlike any other currently in use today, which leads to the third planned funding use: “We want to add more core capabilities to the Layar platform,” said Lens-FitzGerald, which will require additional user experience research.

Prior to speaking with Lens-FitzGerald, I was still scratching my head over the real value of augmented reality experiences, mainly because I didn’t have a sense for Layar’s platform delivering not just information, but an experience. In fact, I’ve been wondering for some time if consumers understand what value AR can bring to mobile. But a key example from one of the more than 1,500 available AR layers provided me with an “a-ha!”moment.

“At Stanford University, you can use Layar to see a virtual archway that no longer exists on the campus because it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906, ” Lens-FitzGerald explained. Indeed, the ability to view long-gone points of interest in tandem with the physical world of today is powerful and opens up a world of possibilities. There will be plenty of hardware to experience that world; Layar expects 1.2 billion AR-capable handsets in consumer hands by 2013 will be able to leverage its platform.

Based in Amsterdam, Layar was founded in June 2009 and received $3.4 million in Series A funding from Sunstone Capital and Prime Technology Ventures this past February.

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