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Earlier this year, UK-based startup Scape Technologies previewed a potentially exciting new augmented reality technology for smartphones, promising to use a device’s camera to automatically determine its location. Now the company’s larger plan is coming into focus, and it’s exciting — using vast, accurate 3D maps to enable city-scale augmented reality applications.
Scape’s pitch is as simple as the enabling technology is complex. While some companies have mapped individual landmarks, buildings, or roads for narrow AR applications, Scape is now mapping entire cities. Already live in London and San Francisco, its 3D maps are underway for 100 cities, it told PCMag, thanks to data gathered by cameras with computer vision. The company’s technology creates a server-side “shared understanding” of environments that client devices can tap into — along with AR overlays — as they navigate the spaces.
Since other companies are in the early stages of delivering similar results in small areas, it’s not surprising that Scape is promising users GPS-beating location accuracy, as well as persistent AR content that can be placed by one user before being accessed by others at the same time — sometimes also known as the “AR cloud.” The novelty here is in the complete city scope of Scape’s maps, which would enable a restaurant to create custom AR signs on streets to guide you towards its location, or urban planners to overlay virtual changes in existing areas to see how they’d look.
Scape’s maps will have instant appeal to AR developers, but the company believes that it’s building a 3D map infrastructure that will connect multiple industries — drones, robotics, and AR — such that devices and humans will both tap into the same shared understandings of environments. The company says that it’s using a combination of geo-coordinates and Euclidean space coordinates to improve location placement and measurement precision.
Both positive and negative implications of augmenting public spaces with shared digital assets are on display in Holoscape, a multiplayer AR game Scape is using to demonstrate the technology. A preview video shows a public square transforming into a drone- and shield-laden FPS combat zone for multiple players equipped with smartphones, while non-players continue walking through the areas. After multiple mass shootings in the U.S., one can only hope that the threats stay virtual, and real world public spaces remain safe for everyone to enjoy.