Mobile navigation application providers have been busy integrating features into their software previously found only on portable navigation devices (PND). However, developers now are looking to the mobile communications space for new features, according to IHS iSuppli research.
One area of interest for navigation providers is augmented reality (AR), a technology that enables application providers to engage users within their navigation solution. With augmented reality, mobile navigation applications can expand their usability as well as provide enhanced features for pedestrian navigation and local search functions away from the vehicle.
Finding the Right Form Factor
While PND makers continue to introduce features geared toward the use of their devices among pedestrians, the main focus remains on in-vehicle use. This, however, limits the usefulness of the technology and the content it can deliver. Mobile handsets do not have to make a case for application usage while on foot, and they have the ability to truly take advantage of augmented reality because of mobile Internet access.
Mobile Apps Start to Embrace AR
As the first major mobile navigation application provider to integrate the technology into its application, Navigon AG announced its Reality Scanner feature for the Android version of MobileNavigator at IFA 2010. After initially launching in Germany, the feature became available on the U.S. version of the application in October 2010.
Using the device camera, the application displays nearby points of interest (POI) on the screen. In addition to the camera, the application integrates information from the GPS receiver, compass as well as available gravity sensors to determine the direction the user is looking to display only relevant POI. According to Navigon, the application displays destinations within a 300-yard (300-meter) radius of the user and relies on its own POI database.
Clicking on a POI displayed on screen will present additional information regarding the location and allows the user to navigate to a selected destination. The display radius is adjusted in order to present a manageable number of POI: if there are too many in the line of sight, the radius decreases.
The implementation of AR in Navigon’s application is similar to that found in applications like Layar, which have been on the market for some time. Using Layar, users hold their device at eye level and then are able to see geocoded content, or in Layar’s case, layers of free and premium content.
Qualcomm has been investing heavily in the development of AR applications and has voiced similar concerns as those Layar is trying to address with partnerships and additional funding. However, where Navigon and Layar are using compass- and GPS-based AR applications, Qualcomm is working on developing vision-based AR applications.
While content in Navigon’s application is tied to a physical location or address, Qualcomm envisions a system where content is not only tied to a location but also can be displayed on a specific surface on a building or road. The goal, as a Qualcomm representative put it during the Consumer Electronics Show last month, is “to draw navigation lines on the ground directly to the front door of a building.”
While Qualcomm is trying to address the issue of how to tightly integrate camera images with on-screen content and graphics, Alcatel-Lucent is working on a different issue facing users of AR and is trying to move away from the need to use the camera altogether for augmented reality content.
For its part, Nokia Corp. started its own augmented reality program in April 2009 with Point & Find, a camera-based, geo-coded content search application that allowed users to search for businesses and other content by combining image-recognition technology and GPS data with images from a handset’s camera. Point & Find was envisioned for brands or other content providers to launch content channels, like travel content or promotions, which users could then access and use the application to view additional media regarding the item or location. Since the initial launch and trials, however, the development of the application has been folded. The technology is now being integrated into Nokia’s maps and locations programs.
A Vast Variety
The attention paid to augmented reality from a vast variety of companies such as Qualcomm, Alcatel-Lucent, Navigon and Nokia shows the potential of the technology in the navigation space. While early implementations from Navigon show a first attempt of integrating this kind of new content, it is the work being done by companies such as Qualcomm and Aclatel-Lucent that will move the industry to a wider adoption of the ensuing new possibilities.
Once an application is able to bridge the obstacles presented by technological platform work, user-friendly implementation and user participation, AR will be able to provide navigation users with a rich interactive application.