Main image of article Breaking Into Augmented Reality
Magic Leap, the augmented reality (AR) startup that received more than $500 million in venture funding from Google and other venture capitalists, recently decided to show off some of its technology in a new YouTube video. While Magic Leap’s investors obviously hope its technology will conquer the market for augmented reality, which layers digital imagery over a user’s surroundings, there could be a lot of competition from tech giants such as Microsoft, which is refining its own AR headset, the HoloLens. Although the next wave of AR products is still months (if not years) away from commercial release, interested developers can still play around with the technology, courtesy of a few SDKs already present in the wild. For example, there’s Qualcomm’s Vuforia, an SDK for building apps in both augmented- and virtual-reality; it features support for iOS, Android, and Unity 3D. Some developers also report positive experiences with the Wikitude SDK, which supports Google Glass and similar augmented-reality hardware, and plays well with mobile-development frameworks such as Unity 3D, Adobe PhoneGab, and Appcelerator’s Titanium. Until mid-2015, developers and software hobbyists had the option of playing around with Metaio, an augmented-reality toolkit that started life as an internal project at Volkswagen (of all places). In May, Apple acquired the startup and took its assets in-house, suggesting that the tech giant is interested in commercializing augmented reality in some way. Those new to augmented reality, but interested in working in the field, should consider study in the following areas:

Computer Vision

Simply put, computer vision is the art of teaching devices to “see” the environment around them. From a programming perspective, that means learning the math and technology behind motion estimation, feature detection (is that a nose?), spatial geometry, and—this is a big one—marker detection. If you can’t build software that convincingly blends with the real world, you’ll have difficulties landing a suitable position at a tech firm specializing in AR.

3D Modeling

Augmented-reality apps populate the real-world environment with all sorts of digital artifacts, each of which needs to be textured, shaded, and rendered in convincing detail. Most 3D-modeling courses will cover everything from lighting to prototyping.

Mobile Programming

While the tech media will almost certainly focus most of its attention on expensive, dedicated headsets such as the HoloLens, there’s also the possibility of an upsurge in augmented-reality apps for smartphones. For anyone interested in the field, that means awareness—if not in-depth knowledge—of mobile programming is essential. If Apple (supported by Metaio’s assets) decides to enter the augmented-reality market via a dedicated app for the iPhone, mastery of iOS building will likewise prove important.