Until recently, the state-of-the-art for computer-assisted navigation has been the Global Positioning System (GPS). While using satellites to pinpoint one’s position on the globe is effective for large-scale navigation, it isn’t so effective for navigating a smaller environment, such as a structure. This is where Visual Positioning Systems (VPS) come in.
A VPS uses augmented reality to sense one’s location via the camera on a phone or set of VR glasses, marking directional arrows, pathway names, and other details onto the view. This assists in navigating large complexes, such as an airport terminal, military base, shopping mall, museum, stadium, or amusement park. Even for city street navigation, VPS technology is more useful than GPS in a high-density area, to say nothing of navigating a multi-story building such as a parking garage or office tower.
One of the chief opportunities for VPS navigation is guiding robots in an industrial environment. Using a 3D mapping system, an automated small vehicle could manage deliveries in an apartment complex, an automated bellhop could assist guests with luggage or lead them to hotel facilities, or a warehouse system could deploy robots to pull and ship orders.
Fantasmo is a company that is launching an open platform Camera Positioning Standard (CPS), used to collect and organize data from roving cameras. Their open-source collective navigation system, TerraOS, offers a Software Development Toolkit (SDK) and other resources to assist in 3D mapping of high-density environments.
Google is a pioneer in the VPS technology field, with its Google Maps system already providing an augmented view of most of the world’s city streets and highways. Recently at a Google I/O keynote they demonstrated a new feature, a virtual assistant in the form of a 3D-rendered fox visible on a phone using their maps application. Simply ask directions and point your phone, and the animated fox will lead the way through the environment.
Excepting such fanciful features, map navigation also has more mundane features such as arrows pointing directions at key intersections. Google’s Street View system has already made considerable headway in the VPS space.
In the science fiction movie Minority Report (2002), depicts a futuristic world in which virtual salespeople pop up on signs and storefronts as the viewer passes, delivering marketing messages or even acting as automated sales assistants when they step into the store. This science-fiction scenario isn’t far off now, as branded Augmented Reality (AR) content is used for direct marketing.
Furniture retailer Ikea has an app that users can put on a phone and take it around their home, while the app puts virtual furniture items it suggests for available spaces on the phone display. Point the camera at a wall, and Ikea shows a bookcase that could fit there and matches the décor. Acura recently deployed AR in a racetrack demo in California, where drivers wore headsets to simulate driving through a jungle or a snowy mountain range while actually navigating a closed track. Retailers are also testing applications such as a virtual in-store assistant, which helps customers navigate the aisles. No longer will shoppers have to wander the aisles searching for products; a helpful virtual assistant can simply direct you to the proper shelf.
Getting back to environments like stadiums, airports, and office buildings, VPS systems using AR are already deployed for assisting visitors, travelers, customers, and even new employees. One company, Blippar, has an indoor VPS which can provide the user with an on-screen menu. They select what they want to do from the menu, and then colorful animated characters and a trail of arrows lead them to their destination.
During a sporting event, spectators could select a player on the field and view their stats, and then ask the VR assistant to guide them on their exit from the stadium seating to their parked car, whose location is logged on arrival. Blippar’s CEO says that the company has already mapped out San Francisco, the surrounding Bay Area, and London for use with their application.