Thursday, October 15, 2009

Augmented Reality - Tools

So let's talk Augmented Reality. I mentioned in my previous, introductory post that I was doing some creative flash work for NASA; and more specifically, did a 1 week rush to quickly adapt the Ares I-X project into a simple Melts-in-your-eyes-not-in-your-hand presentation of the rocket that is being launched. 

And while it's nothing "new" to the world of Flash-based Augmented Reality, it certainly was fun to do. And, surprisingly, very easy. But now what I want to do is to record my experience so that, as I progress onto more engaging productions, I can have something to refer back to.

FLARToolKit :: So, if you've done any research into Augmented Reality via the Flash Platform, you've likely come across a wealth of information on the FLARToolKit. And while I won't really indulge in a historical study, all that's really important to know about it is that it's the Flash adaptation of the ARToolKit, which performs the magic of using your computer's webcam to track specific marker patterns.

The FLARToolKit will be the base of any Flash Augmented Reality piece. At least those that aren't using some proprietary 3rd party software. Just using the libraries that come with the ToolKit, you can build any single-marker Augmented Reality piece you can think of. I only used the FLARToolKit and some self-built AS3 libraries to build the Ares I-X piece, as well as a few other more interactive prototypes that I'll be posting later.

FLARManager :: The FLARManager extends the functionality of the FLARToolKit, making marker managment more easily controlled through xml docs. It also allows for multi-marker tracking, which hosts some pretty awesome possibilities. I started using the FLARManager on the project I am currently working on, which is going to be an Augmented Reality representation of the results of the LCROSS Mission.

There's 1 immediate difference I have found between using just the base FLARToolKit vs the FLARManager, and that's performance. I went back, just for kicks, and switched out how the Ares I-X was loading, and got a very big FPS increase. Almost 4x, actually.

Marker Generator :: Tarotaro's Marker Generator has been what I use to get my marker patterns converted to .pat. There's also a few AIR apps that you can use to hold your marker up to the webcam and capture the pattern, but tarotaro's lets you just load your image files directly into the generator and manually adjust your resolution and pattern% settings; so the results are presumably better. If not, then it's certainly easier. ;) And it's web-based, so if you don't like downloading things it's perfect for you.

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