Sun Seeker: 3D Augmented Reality Viewer is hot application currently available in the App Store and we were lucky enough to snag an interview with the developer. First let’s discuss our hands-on with the application.
The app’s description says that it ‘Provides both a flat view compass and an augmented reality camera 3-D VIEW showing the solar path, its hour intervals, its winter and summer solstice paths, rise and set times and more.’
When you first launch the app you are presented with a top-down compass view showing the sun’s path throughout the hours of the day. In a glance you can see sunrise and sunset, length of day and night, and where in the sky the sun will be. You can also choose to view the sun’s information for any date you select.
Pressing the camera button brings up the augmented reality mode. This starts the phone’s camera and nicely overlays the sun’s path over a ‘grid-like’ pattern. In addition to the sun’s path you can also see the elevation, azimuth, sun’s position throughout the day, and the direction of the sun’s current position.
We really like this application and felt it offered all of the solar information you would need in a beautiful package.
Now for our interview with the developer of Sun Seeker, Graham Dawson.
1) How did you come to your decision of developing an ‘augmented reality’ application?
I started developing for the iPhone when the 3G device first came out, and my first app was a weather app, which was a subject which I had studied at university. That app proved very successful, and I then decided to build a portfolio of apps focusing on enhancing user awareness in various ways. Later, at around the time that Apple released the 3GS device (the first device with built-in digital compass) I was looking to buy an apartment. One of my concerns was that there should be good light available, although as a property viewer you don’t get to see where the sunlight comes in at different times of day or year. As I have some background in astronomy, I immediately realised that it would be possible to create an app for the 3GS which showed me exactly the information I wanted – hence the Sun Seeker app was born. So in a sense it was serendipitous – although I am sure that had it not been this particular app, I would likely have found some other augmented reality concept to pursue.
2) What is your opinion of the capability of the iPhone’s hardware in terms of handling augmented reality applications?
Although the 3GS sensors form an exciting first step for AR, the accuracy limitations of various components are far from ideal. In particular the GPS positional accuracy is not always adequate to even decide whether a given point of interest is even in front of you or behind you, and of course GPS may not be available at all in indoor locations. Fortunately this particular limitation is irrelevant to the Sun Seeker app, although it is very relevant to the various geographical POI-related augmented reality apps and platforms.
The other main inaccuracy is in the digital compass heading, and this one does affect Sun Seeker. This is typically reported by the device as being accurate only to within +/- 25 degrees, although in practice (in non-magnetically-polluted spaces) it is often good to within several degrees, in which case it is near enough for almost all practical applications.
The other major sensor component involved is the tri-axis accelerometer – but that is generally of good accuracy, and can be further calibrated for even better results, so this one needs little further future refinement.
Although only required for certains types of AR applications, a key missing factor in AR on the Phone is the ability to do real-time video camera analysis. It would theoretically be possible to use video analysis to supplement GPS and positional data (eg. be recognising nearby buildings, landmarks or even people) and thereby sometimes being able to get a much better idea of your exact position.
3) Are you optimistic about the future of augmented reality on mobile devices and can you predict any possible future applications for this technology?
I’m very optimistic here, at least in the longer term. I suspect that the most exciting new developments will come through video analysis ie. using image recognition and overlaying the images with enhanced information about what you are seeing. This could take us far beyond the current types of AR apps which are largely restricted to presenting information about static, non-realtime POIs. An obvious application here is facial recognition, allowing you to see additional data about people nearby.
I also suspect that we will eventually start to see dedicated AR devices which will allow us to see AR information without having to look at our mobiles – for example in eyeglasses or contact lenses. In that case perhaps no-one need even know that you are using it, and it could be ubiquitous and fully accepted that people would use it. Perhaps one of Apple’s future models will be the “eyePhone”?!
4) Do you plan to develop another augmented reality application?
Yes. I am working on another idea which I don’t wish to disclose yet, and it will require some trialling to determine whether or not it works well enough in practical situations. Its certainly an exciting area to work in, although a little risky in terms of time and effort spent to prototype your ideas, in an area which is still quite novel and “bleeding edge”.
We thank Graham for his insightful answers and look forward to his future projects.