Next year's high-end smartphones might have AR as standard

Posted Aug 16, 2017 by James Walker
Qualcomm has unveiled a next-generation smartphone image processing module that includes support for depth-sensing cameras. The development makes it likely that augmented reality will become a first-class feature in next year's Android phones.
Qualcomm Spectra depth-sensing image processor
Qualcomm Spectra depth-sensing image processor
Existing augmented reality phones from ASUS and Lenovo have relied on custom engineering to drive the AR features. In an effort to drive mass adoption of the tech, Qualcomm today announced an off-the-shelf solution for any manufacturer. In the same way phone makers already buy Qualcomm's chipsets and regular image processors, they'll now be able to include AR capabilities without developing their own special hardware.
Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon mobile processor of 2018 should come with the company's depth-sensing image chip as standard. The second-generation Spectra image signal processor can scan 3D objects in real time using a technology similar to LIDAR. Points of infrared light are used to measure the distance to different spots on the objects around the phone, enabling a 3D map to be developed.
Qualcomm said Spectra is designed to support "extended reality" applications. The chip also has applications in computer vision and biometric security, offering advanced facial recognition for more secure authentication. A depth-sensing front camera could be used by Spectra to confirm your identity, offering an alternative to fingerprint sensors and iris scanners.
"Whether used for computational photograph, video recording, or for computer vision applications that require accurate motion tracking, it's clear that power efficient camera image signal processing has become more important for the next generation of mobile user experiences," said Tim Leland, vice president of Qualcomm project management. "Our breakthrough advancements in image quality and computer vision, combined with our family of integrated Qualcomm Spectra ISPs for Snapdragon, are designed to support an ecosystem of cutting edge mobile applications for our customers."
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The first Spectra-equipped phones are likely to start arriving in early 2018. The timing will make augmented reality one of the biggest new features of next year's smartphones. Spectra's launch will come a few months after Apple unveils the iPhone 8 in September, expected to include its own array of augmented reality features.
By making it easier for Android brands to access AR hardware, Qualcomm intends to spur competition in the space and encourage wider adoption of the technology. Offering a ready-to-use depth-sensing image processor is the first step in this mission.