Building Your First Augmented Reality App

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We’ve talked before about how influential augmented reality is going to be in the future.  What we didn’t mention is how easy it can be to take part in shaping that future.  Over the course of the next two posts we’ll show how to incorporate AR into an app, and when it’s all said and done we’ll be able to look at a virtual elephant in the real world.

It’s not too complicated as far as subject material goes, but there a couple steps involved so we’ll split this into two pieces: gathering our resources and then putting them into action.

Before we do any work though, let’s take a second to discuss the bigger picture of what we’ll be doing here.  If you’ve ever experimented with game development, then you’ve probably heard of Unity.  If not, then some things in this tutorial may seem a little confusing at first (but far from impossible!).  Unity is a development environment where developers can make 2D and 3D games, and we’ll be using it here to host our augmented reality app.  Click here to download Unity, and when you do make sure that you include the Android/iOS and Vuforia plugins.

We all know about Android and iOS, but odds are Vuforia is a new name.  Vuforia is a popular AR platform that allows us to use image targeting in our apps.  Essentially all we have to do is pick a 3D model and an image.  Vuforia will then root our 3D model to any images it sees in the real world.

For example, in this app we’ll be using a 3D model of an elephant made with Blender, and the image will be a $1 bill.  With this combination, any time our app’s camera finds a dollar bill in the real world, it will place the 3D model on top of it.  The result is the title image of this post.

Ok, that’s enough background.  Let’s jump into the actual set up.  Use the above link to download Unity if you don’t already have it, and then go to developer.Vuforia.com and create an account.  After you’ve made an account click on the develop tab and then click to create a new license key.  You can name this anything you want, but as you can see in this image I chose “VuforiaElephant” as my name.

After creating the license key you’ll be able to click on it and see a string of random characters representing it.  Copy and paste this value; we’ll be using it later in this tutorial. 

We create this license key so that our app in Unity will be able to connect to our Vuforia account.  Now for the second step we’ll need to do create a database inside of Vuforia to hold our dollar bill image.  Change your selection from License Manager to Target Manager and then add a new database.  I’ve named mine “DollarElephant”.  Inside of this database we’ll click “Add Target” to add a new target.  Pull any image of a dollar bill from Google images and add it here.  Then set it’s width value to 5 and give it a name (dollarTarget is just fine).

When you’re done with this click to download the database, and that’s everything we’ll need to do in Vuforia.  Before moving into Unity let’s also get the 3D model of an elephant we want to use.  Click here to download the elephant made by sagarkalbande (and feel free to try this out with a different model).  Save this file onto your computer and now let’s move into Unity.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, don’t worry we’re not going to do much else in this first part.  For now let’s open Unity and create a new project named “VuforiaElephant”.  Go to “File”, then “Build Settings” and select Android as your Platform.  After making this change the little Unity cube should appear next to Android.

Finally inside of the Build Settings window click on “Player Settings” and a bar of options will appear on the right side of your screen showing setting options.  Open the tab that says “XR Settings” and check the box that adds Vuforia Augmented Reality to our project.  Go ahead and import the settings that Unity says it needs to add, and now we’re ready to start the fun stuff.

If you’ve made it this far down the blog, then good work sticking through the dry steps.  We created a Vuforia account, made a license key, and selected a dollar bill as our image target.  Then we downloaded our elephant 3D model and created a new project in Unity.

So now we just have to make the connection inside of our Unity app between the dollar and the elephant.  Stay tuned for the second part of this tutorial in the next few days and we’ll finish out the project so that everyone can have their own virtual elephant! Does app development have you completely lost? Check out Phonlab Android app development classes HERE

AI In The Bedroom: Smart Home Forecasts

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AI In The Bedroom

Some of you may remember the old Disney movie “Smart House” about a futuristic house designed to take care of a family and all of its needs.  Yes, the house went rogue and locked the family in, but before that turn of events it took care of all the cooking, cleaning, and household management.  We’re not too far off from this becoming the reality for every home.

It’s no secret that strides have been made in home technology over the past few years.  Companies like Google and Amazon have built their own “personalities” to be placed on the counter and listen for commands.  Rather than take the time to list the achievements that have been made already, this post will look towards the future of the smart home.

The Heated Battle:

A few days ago the Senior Manager of Amazon’s Alexa AI jumped ship to work for Google.  This is hardly indicative that there’s been a shift in the power dynamic.  All the same the move generated a lot of discussion about what the future holds for both companies in their smart home ventures.  Couple this with the fact that Amazon recently decided to stop selling Nest (owned by Google) products on its website, and the tension only builds. Nest products can connect to Google Home, and both companies are fighting for a winner take all outcome.

With the race on for who dominates the American household, we’re sure to see some out of the box ideas come into play.  But in terms of innovation this competition is only going to benefit consumers.  As long as each of these companies has the other posing a market share threat, actions will be taken to partner with as many 3rd party businesses (products) as possible.  This means two things: 1. Businesses that can come up with unique home appliances are going to thrive, and 2. The smart home is only going to get smarter.

Smart Apartments as the norm? 

The end goal is a seamless flow of assistance.  Whether it’s making your breakfast when your alarm goes off or turning your lights off and playing white noise until you fall asleep, smart homes will find their way into every possible part of daily life.  Plans are currently underway in major cities like Chicago to build “Smart Apartments” that already have wiring and lights installed to be compatible with Alexa and Google Home.

And there’s really no foreseeable limit to what can and can’t be improved by tapping into a smart home.  I think in the next few years “smart home compatible” is going to become a buzzword of sorts for all kinds of 3rd party appliances.   The bottom line is that innovation is happening right now, and there’s plenty more to come.  I look forward to seeing how Google and Amazon both find ways to improve our everyday lives with the upcoming tech.

What do you think lies on the horizon for the smart home?  Let us know in the comments below!