Multiuser AR and location-based AR require a sticky technical chore: positioning.
Things like display, graphics, and rendering tend to get a lot of love in AR. One under-rated technical ability? Positioning. Accurate positioning helps to make sure that AR assets appear convincingly in the world. It also helps to ensure that assets tied to a specific geographic location appear where they are supposed to. Finally, it makes or breaks multi-user experiences.
This article will look at some of the companies rethinking positioning. We’ll also explore some of the technologies enabling these advances, and the AR experiences that these advances enable.
Some Technical Background
It’s important to understand at the outset that positioning and locating are not the same as “localization.” Locating and positioning are about understanding where a user is in the world. Localization is about convincingly placing a virtual asset in a user’s physical environment.
A lot of AR applications don’t need positioning or locating at all – they don’t care where you are in the world, but they need to be able to understand the world around you to place items. On the other hand, a lot of non-AR applications don’t need to know what the world around you looks like to help a delivery driver find you or help you find your next location.
However, some advanced AR applications need both. This is the case for AR activations that are tied to physical locations on the planet. It’s also one approach to multi-user AR experiences.
Right now, most location systems work on the Global Positioning System – GPS. GPS can locate a device reasonably accurately for most use cases but it comes with a catch – GPS is flat. Humans, particularly in urban areas, tend not to limit themselves to the ground. We stack.
“I’m sure we’ve all experienced that, opening up Google Maps and there’s just this big blue dot,” said Dan Hight. “In the urban market, understanding your vertical location is important.”
Hight is VP of Business Development and Partnerships at NextNav. NextNav is a navigation company “elevating geolocation” by giving positioning data a “third axis.” You probably know that your phone has GPS, but NextNav uses a lesser-known sensor – the barometric pressure sensor that measures air pressure.
The higher up you go, the lower the barometric pressure gets. Barometric pressure also changes with the weather. So, NextNav uses information from a network of pressure stations, combined with information from your device’s barometric pressure sensor. The difference lets the system determine your elevation.
“If we know your location,” said Hight, “and we know the pressure, we can calculate your vertical position with floor-level accuracy.”
The AR Connection
NextNav was founded to work with emergency response – which is what GPS was designed for in the first place. And they do partner with emergency response groups around the country. But, they also recognize the benefits that their solution has for consumer applications, particularly in AR.
“AR, foundationally, is resolving itself today around recognition of the physical world,” said Hight. “AR is going to be greatly enhanced with metadata provided by better geolocation.”
Further, earlier this year, NextNav announced a partnership with echo3D. echo3D is a cloud platform for managing and delivering immersive experiences. With the partnership, creators could make such things as location-based AR experiences that are different on every floor of the same building.
“Precise location capabilities, including the vertical dimension, are foundational to the future of immersive mixed-reality experience,” echo3D co-founder and CEO, Alon Grinshpoon, said in a blog post announcing the partnership. “Alongside NextNav, we’ll continue providing creators with the capabilities needed to bring the promise of AR, VR, and the metaverse to life.”