Pixar’s “Toy Story” is about a boy’s toys that come alive, and thanks to a new technology in the works, Bert and Ernie will be more lifelike than ever during playtime.
Qualcomm Inc.'s (Nasdaq: QCOM) Vuforia augmented reality (AR) platform, which transforms real-world objects into interactive experiences, teamed up with Sesame Workshop to create a prototype playset.
When a child hovers a tablet or phone over the toys, a TV turns on, Ernie chats, a bath bubbles and flowers pop out of a toilet bowl.
Qualcomm is in the process of commercializing the capability that recognizes complex 3-D objects.
“It takes a traditional children’s playset and adds a new virtual layer on top of it that makes the toys look like they are coming to life," said Jay Wright, vice president of business development at Qualcomm.
The child isn’t the only one smiling; the toy manufacturer gets a new stream of revenue by selling the app that works with the toy.
“Now I can sell the new digital layer or layers that will go on top of the physical toy, with no additional cost to goods," Wright said.
Wright shared some of Vuforia’s developments at a recent Digitaria-hosted event, called "Hacking Reality: How Augmented Reality Will Change The World." He declined to comment on toy makers’ specific initiatives or product release dates.
“Major toy manufacturers are working on Vuforia projects you will see in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
Stores can expect to be stocked with the stocking stuffers this time next year.
“We will see more toys this time next year using Vuforia,” Wright said. “The toy industry is extremely competitive and they keep their toy plans very close to the vest."
Instead of just being able to use AR to drive toy sales, manufacturers are making AR the core product experience.
“So from a toy manufacturer’s perspective, this is helping them extend the life and play of the toy,” Wright said.
Some products that employ Vuforia's technology are already on the market. Band-Aid's Magic Vision app, for example, causes Muppets to pop up and sing when pointed at a Band-Aid-covered boo boo.
"It works well with Band-Aid, which has the magic of brand promise. When you put it on, everything feels better," Wright said. "What is more magical than Muppets jumping out and singing?”
Some toy manufacturers are already using Vuforia apps to create a lifelike experience.
Carlsbad-based WowWee Toys’ Foam Fighters, World War II airplanes that are part of its AppGear line, integrate an attached plane that flies and fights through a smart device screen.
AR and computer vision technology is becoming increasingly competitive, and more companies want a piece of the pie.
Vuforia has more than 40,000 registered developers, which range from those building standalone projects to those in large companies building their own applications.
With support for iOS, Android, and Unity 3D, Vuforia can let developers write a single native app that can reach hundreds of models of smartphones and tablets.
“AR is really taking off as a way to drive more engagement with consumers," Wright said.
Its AR-recommended developer program puts certain developers that have done exceptional Vuforia solutions in touch with brands.
Santa Monica-based Daqri is a recommended Vuforia developer that is gaining ground in the educational space for its 4D Anatomy app, which takes viewers inside the human body via a three-dimensional learning environment.
Today, there are more than 2,400 Vuforia-powered apps in the market, Wright said. They range from Sony Pictures' summer campaign that let consumers unlock AR-enabled images from "The Amazing Spider-Man," to clothing company Moosejaw's wildly popular X-Ray vision app.
“Multiple apps have passed the 1 million-downloads mark," Wright said. “That’s a significant number for a marketer or brand building a mobile app."
More brands are finding that AR is meeting a significant marketing need.
"It’s something that consumers find very entertaining and compelling and drives direct engagement with physical products, and ultimately, with their brand,” he said.
Qualcomm’s image recognition technology redesigned shoppers' in-store experience at retail giant American Apparel Inc. this year. Consumers can stroll into a store and point their phone at a T-shirt to instantly see product information and what other colors and sizes it’s available in.
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