Augmented Reality in Education

[:en]Another foray into the world of augmented reality, this one was no longer from an esoteric developer point of view. This one was practical and down-to-earth – and I have to say, it was pretty interesting. This post is a little log of what we did and how we did it.

By ‘we’, I mean, of course, myself and my physics teacher, who was open-minded enough to attempt this sort of endeavour. And at this point it really is an endeavour – there are as of yet few easy solutions available for regular users that are reasonably free and simple to use.

‘Reasonably free’ is a terrible expression, I know. What I really mean is that I am not aware of any AR kits that don’t cost a moderate sum of money while being easy enough to use. In this case, we would have even been perfectly fine with a ‘powered by’ message in the corner, but alas – no such luck.

Until I discovered Metaio. A German company, Metaio offers a line of AR-related products. Among them are the Metaio SDK and the Metaio Creator. The Metaio SDK is a set of tools to add augmented reality elements to applications on many platforms, including iOS, Android and Unity. The Creator is an interface of sorts that makes it easier to create AR-powered projects.

The Metaio Creator interface.

In our case, we used it for an event celebrating the end of World War II. Because Metaio Creator allows you to use any image as a fiducial marker, we used pages of the presentation’s written material and specially designed sheets. As a demo version, the Creator offers two trackable objects per app and two augmented reality objects (models in our case) per trackable. The models can be imported in a variety of formats, but I’ve found FBX models to work best. The Creator also offers shadow plane rendering and precomputed shadow generation (for FBX models) – both adding more definition to the 3D models displayed.

Once the AR objects had been placed, the question of distribution arose. The Creator is able to export your projects as watermarked apps, but it also offers cloud hosting on the Metaio servers – 100 MB space total for demo licence users. The trackables and objects are stored on Metaio’s remote servers and assigned a channel. Each channel can in turn be accessed using a QR code in conjunction with Metaio’s own Junaio Browser app. You scan the QR code, and the data for the current AR set is fetched from the cloud. With the models and images used by us, it took 10-20 seconds on average to download the data on 2G internet, and less than 5 seconds to download it when using a somewhat decent Wi-Fi connection.

An awesome AR scene.

Augmented reality is a very interesting technology indeed, and one that shows a lot of promise. But until it becomes widespread enough to become easy to implement without needing to buy expensive licences, we’re left with either sucking it up and using demo and free versions, or getting low-level toolkits and building what we want ourselves. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be exploring Metaio’s products, especially their free SDK.[:]

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Developer, linguistics enthusiast, amateur teacher. All opinions are my own.

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