Can augmented reality startups stay alive even with Apple and Google creating their own AR platforms for millions of mobile devices? Blippar seems to think so. The London-based startup continues to work on its own AR engine, and it just released a new computer vision feature that it says will tag well-known physical landmarks.
Blippar’s new Landmark Recognition Feature will recognize more than 2,000 landmarks around the world, like well-known bridges, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and even famous sports arenas. That way, people can point their smartphones at these objects in the real world — or even images of them in 2D photos — and Blippar’s technology is supposed to identify them. It will work both within the Blippar AR app and as a service that can be used by other applications, Blippar says.
The Landmark Recognition feature, as it’s called, comes on the heels of Blippar’s AR City, Public Faces, and Flower Recognition features, which are all part of a larger effort to map the physical world through AR and “change the way people interact with and experience their surroundings,” as the company likes to say.
“In order for augmented reality to scale, computers need to recognize reality,” Ambarish Mitra, Blippar’s CEO, said in an interview with The Verge. “Everyone is focused on placing things on top of things [with AR]. But computers need to really, semantically, understand reality.”
Mitra also pointed out that the Landmark Recognition feature only uses computer vision to identify the structures and not GPS or location information from the phone. This is key for object recognition to work when the person isn’t physically near the object, like in the photo example mentioned above. And the app is not running on Apple’s ARKit or Google’s ARCore platforms, which make custom use of software and hardware integrations, with Mitra emphasizing that it’s Blippar’s custom software-only approach.
Still, the elephants in the room are clearly Apple and Google, which Blippar happens to be neighbors with now, since it shuttered some of its international offices and opened one in Mountain View, California, amid reports of financial struggles. (And as was reported by The Financial Times, Mitra himself was at one point discovered to have embellished his CV.)
Blippar first launched back in 2010 as a tool largely for marketing and advertising. People were supposed to download the Blippar app, and if a product or magazine image had a little “B” on it, that meant a person could point their phone at it to get more information about the product. But when that didn’t work out, the company did that thing Silicon Valley companies do — pivoted — and began focusing more on broader object recognition. It now sells what is essentially an AR app-making platform for other businesses, called Blippbuilder.
In the meantime, companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung have started funneling their own resources and tech talent into AR efforts, which have resulted in full-scale mobile AR platforms. In Google’s case, there’s the Google Lens app, which uses artificial intelligence to identify, among other things, landmarks.
Mitra said in an interview last year that Blippar is still spending a lot of funding on its R&D efforts, something that its cash-flush competitors don’t have to worry so much about. But, he insists, Blippar can still offer things to large-scale customers that Apple and Google can’t, calling Blippbuilder the “WordPress of AR.” Mitra said you “don’t have to have any technology knowledge to use it,” and that after using Blippbuidler, “you can publish to ARCore or ARKit if you want to.”