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A new system for AR enthusiasts

January 29, 2017

New reality

New reality:  With the use of augmented reality technology by cinemas, cinema-goers can simply point their phone cameras to a movie poster and the movie trailer will appear on their phone screens for preview.

Immersive experience

Immersive experience:  The use of AR by bookshops gives customers more information about a book beyond its cover and blurb on the back.

Open platform

Open platform:  Associate Professor Dr Ben Hui (second right) from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering says the use of AR is certain to become a global trend.

Innovative future

Innovative future:  PhD student Shawn Zhang from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering says there is more room for Hong Kong to further develop AR technology.

Augmented reality, also known as AR, is a technology which superimposes virtual objects onto the view of the real-world environment.

 

It has exploded in popularity for personal entertainment and business.

 

A host of industries like retailing, manufacturing and education have incorporated AR into their operations to boost efficiency and service quality.

 

For example, in an AR-outfitted cinema, cinema-goers can simply point their phone cameras to a movie poster and the movie trailer will appear on their phone screens for preview.

 

Another example is the use of AR by bookshops to give customers more information about a book beyond its cover and blurb on the back.

 

Shoppers pick up a book and take a picture of its cover with their phone cameras.

 

Information like the price of the book and readers’ reviews will instantly pop up on screen, helping them make an informed choice.

 

A high-tech AR platform 

Also jumping on the AR bandwagon is a team of researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.

 

The university’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering is building an AR platform, CloudRidAR, a cloud-based infrastructure for mobile augmented reality.

 

The system helps solve a problem that has bugged AR app developers and users for a long time.

 

Although AR is widely used on mobile and wearable devices like smartphones and smartglasses, it requires a lot of computing power to process the sounds and virtual images.

 

Mobile devices like tablets have limited processing ability, which curbs the performance of AR apps.

 

CloudRidAR helps plug the gap by offloading intensive computing tasks from a mobile device onto a cloud.

 

As the complex processing work is devolved to the cloud, the large amounts of data coming with the AR apps will no longer overwhelm users’ mobile devices.

 

Faster devices with longer battery life 

The department’s Associate Professor Dr Ben Hui said the new platform helps speed up data processing by more than 10 times.

 

“At the core of the technology, we provide cloud computing or edge computing which allows all the processing to be offloaded to another device, for example a cloud or another more powerful device nearby,” he said.

 

“This allows you to speed up the computation, and also reduce battery consumption on your device.”

 

The department’s Post-doctoral Fellow Farshid Hassani Bijarbooneh said the AR platform enables smartglasses to interact with their users more quickly, citing an example of a shopper wearing a pair of smart spectacles and doing price comparisons on the spot in a shopping mall.

 

“When I wear the glasses, I can see the prices of different objects and I can compare them. I can choose one and compare [it against other similar offerings on] the Internet. So there are many opportunities in Hong Kong, especially because Hong Kong is oriented towards marketing, shopping and finance sectors.”

 

Expecting AR will be the next big thing following the advent of smartphones, the HKUST team launched its research five years ago, with over $2 million backing from the Innovation & Technology Fund.

 

A platform open to all 

Its target is to develop an open platform for Hong Kong’s young programmers who can make use of the ready-made tools on CloudRidAR to create their own apps.

 

Dr Hui said the use of the platform can shorten the time needed for building an AR app from scratch from three months to one week.

 

“By opening our platform to more young developers in Hong Kong, it will help them write their apps easily. We save a lot of time for the developers. I think this will be helpful to the young developers when they want to create their companies.”

 

The team will submit its research results to the Government in June, and will have a market launch of the system later.

 

Boosting local I&T development 

The development of innovation and technology has always been high on the Government’s policy agenda.

 

In his recent 2017 Policy Address, Chief Executive CY Leung said the Government will ask universities to conduct more impactful and translational research projects to meet Hong Kong’s needs, and promote the development of industries and re-industrialisation.

 

The department’s PhD student Shawn Zhang says there is more room for Hong Kong to develop AR technology.

 

“Hong Kong is a tourism city, a shopping paradise. And AR is a good [toolkit] for advertisement, entertainment and education,” he said.

 

 



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2017 Policy Address