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August 19, 2012

Q&A: Qualcomm on Augmented Reality for Enterprise

CBR spoke to Qualcomm about the company’s intensive R&D work on Augmented Reality, and what the future might hold for enterprise.

By Allan Swann

Jay Wright, senior director of business management at Qualcomm, oversees the company’s Augmented Reality programme, which is positioning itself as a new high-tech way for marketers and advertisers to reach consumers.

See CBR’s feature story here for a quick backgrounder about Augmented Reality (AR), for those that aren’t familiar with the concepts involved.

Jay Wright, senior director of business management, Qualcomm
Jay Wright, senior director of business management, Qualcomm

Why has a mobile phone chip designer decided to become so interested in Augmented Reality, which is really a software application?

"Qualcomm started in AR about 3 years ago. Most of the things we look at in R&D are intended to drive additional computing requirements – we want to find applications that require more and more computing power, to put behind our primary business, which is chipsets."

"[AR] looked like something that would drive future computing power, because it’s extremely computationally intensive."

Much of Qualcomm’s focus has been less on GPS and compass based AR, but use of mobile devices’ onboard cameras. It effectively operates as a ‘computer eye’ spotting objects, which it then overlays images in real time.

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"You’re effectively processing video streams in real time and looking for these objects frame by frame, while comparing them to the database of objects – which is hugely intensive."

So what does Qualcomm do differently, compared to your main competitors, such as HP’s Aurasma?

"We took an aggressive approach, and opened R&D offices focused exclusively on computer vision and AR.
"We launched our ‘commercial phase’, now known as Vuforia. Our approach with Vuforia was to create an enabling technology, by going directly to the developer eco-system and creating an SDK. It was a new approach, and we’ve been extremely pleased with the results.

"The motivation here is to drive more snapdragon market share. So we feel by enabling these applications and making them work better on snapdragon – whether it’s an iOS or android device."

"It’s all about driving chipsets. In the same way Google might provide free applications for ads, we’re providing free software SDK to drive our chipsets."

"We launched our Android SDK in April last year, followed by iOS in October. This time last year, there were 30 commercial applications, there are no over 1000 today. It’s a high calibre of brands and developers that are building apps on top of Vuforia; we’ve seen a huge growth, and a huge response.

Isn’t this just a gimmick or a fad that will pass?

"As we’ve seen over the last 18 years, there are a lot of mobile products that do go through a gimmick phase that marketers experiment around with. There are very few products that marketers and developers stick with, unless they’re seeing sustaining value.

"Tesco, for example, saw much higher response rates with Blippar than with QR codes.

"I’m positive because we’re seeing a lot of brands continuing to invest, and they’re seeing real returns from these campaigns.

"We now have more than 30,000 registered developers, with more than 1000 apps available. A significant amount of these campaigns are seeing [end-user] downloads passing the 500,000 threshold. Blippar already has 750,000 users, just in the UK.

So if this market is to continue to survive, where do you see it going next?

"A lot of people are talking about context awareness, Qualcomm talks about the ‘digital sixth sense’. It’s all about the device telling us where we are, and what’s around us – and we think computer vision is a big part of that.

"We have the largest R&D effort in the world associated with AR, that’s occurring in the UK, Israel, China, Korea, Austria and San Diego, all of them working on computer vision to drive this forward.

"So our goal would be to make that vision just as rich as our eye in terms of functionality. So it can recognise every object, every person, and every surface in the environment."

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