23 October 2020 Rosemary Kay

The future of augmented reality with WebAR

WebAR – is it the future?

So, shared headsets are out of favour, thanks to Covid-19. (I never was keen on putting on a sweaty Oculus in public…)

So AR stories on handsets are in then?

Good, because we’ve been working on some fun experiences for a while….

We’ve done R&D into immersive storytelling techniques using VR (Oculus), AR (Hololens) and AR (on personal devices). Our research shows that the most financially scalable of these, and most popular with audiences, is AR on personal devices. AR entertainment will expand rapidly in the next few years, especially when AR glasses become functional and ubiquitous. So we’ve been developing screen-based AR stories delivered on personal devices by native apps.

But experiencing AR on personal devices has limitations.

And the main limitation? Downloading apps. It’s a barrier for lots of users. They don’t like downloading a separate app for each story-experience. They want it to be quick, seamless.

Then there’s compatibility. Some organisations want AR stories to be hosted on their own app, for commercial/security reasons. But we’ve recently hit a problem because the coding language of the host app was outmoded and not compatible with AR-enabled code.

But there is a solution: WebAR.

WebAR does away with apps. It’s activated straight from a web-browser. It’s sharable, democratic –  doesn’t necessarily need AR-enabled phones, and almost everyone has a WebAR connected device in their pocket. It doesn’t eat up your data with a download, because it’s all in the cloud. Point your phone at an image, or cross a geofence and whoosh – the character appears before you, the immersive experience is all around you….

AR animation

Ah, if only it was that easy though!

Sadly, WebAR technology isn’t quite production-ready, for our high-end data-rich AR content. The memory needed for that is better on a native app downloaded onto your phone, than it is on the web, at the moment.

So we need to push the potential of WebAR, with a bit more R&D to see how much light and texture, audio and movement, gameplay and interaction we can get WebAR to handle. And how much creativity we can supply to counteract the limitations.

There are quite a few other companies supporting the move to extend WebAR’s capabilities by providing platforms where you can bring your AR ideas into Web-life. Like 8th Wall https://www.8thwall.com/ And Scenegraph Studios https://www.scenegraphstudios.com/

And luckily, Creative England, like us, can see the value of WebAR. So they are supporting our attempts to push boundaries, with their New Ideas programme. https://www.creativeengland.co.uk/creative-enterprise-new-ideas-fund/

Of course, we need the big boys to push the boundaries too – because only when Apple and Google roll out their new toys, or 5G is available everywhere, will the true potential of AR experiences on the web, become a reality.

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