Qualcomm readies augmented reality push

The chip maker will ship a beta version of its SDK this fall

Mobile phone technology vendor Qualcomm plans to offer an augmented reality platform and software development kit, the company said on Wednesday at its Uplinq conference.

Augmented reality allows computer-generated content to be superimposed over a live camera view of the real world, according to Qualcomm.

Qualcomm's augmented reality platform will initially be available for mobile phones using Google's Android operating system. It is based on technology it acquired from Austrian company Imagination Computer Services earlier this year, which relies on image detection instead of GPS, according to Qualcomm.

A beta version of the SDK (software development kit) will be available in the fall, according to Qualcomm.

At Uplinq, toymaker Mattel demonstrated a virtual and augmented reality enhanced version of its classic Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game, which superimposed the battling robots on a ring that mixes virtual ropes and a real mat.

Qualcomm is also working with Unity Technologies to offer augmented reality as an add-on for Unity's game development platform for Android.

Interested developers can apply to take part in a private beta program by submitting a proposal detailing their idea for an augmented reality application, according to Qualcomm. The program will accommodate up to 25 developers, and each will get an Android- and Snapdragon-based smartphone from HTC, it said.

To attract developer interest Qualcomm is also organizing a contest, which will award the winner US$125,000. The contest will commence when the SDK becomes available, and the submission site will open in early November, according to Qualcomm.

Augmented reality is a really hot area at the moment, according to Geoff Blaber, analyst at CCS Insight. But it is still in its infancy, and one challenge will be to make money beyond advertising, he said.

One of the companies Qualcomm will compete with is Dutch outfit Layar, which also offers a platform for augmented reality. Qualcomm's push validates the area, and will bring more attention, according to co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald. To what extent the two companies will go head-to-head remains to be seen, because there are not many details yet about Qualcomm's offering, he said.

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