by Alain Tiquet

Periodically, we’re using this blog to
profile some of the companies that participated in NVIDIA’s Emerging
Companies Summit (ECS 2009). ECS 2010 will take place Sept. 20 – 23 at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California, during the GPU Technology Conference.

Augmented Reality (AR) technology might soon be hitting a store near you, thanks to some innovative work by metaio, which uses NVIDIA technology to create information overlays that you can see when you look at an object – such as a shoe or car or toy – with a computer or smart phone screen. One of their latest projects is a very cool kiosk for Lego, the Danish toy manufacturer that helps consumers see 3D animations of finished Lego sets, simply by holding up a product box to the kiosk screen. (Check out the video below to see how it works.)

AR adds a layer of information to the real world. People may use AR on smart phones – for example, pointing their phone’s camera at a restaurant to pull up a review. And there are several AR games that use smart phones and GPS. In more complex implementations, AR might enable something like the interactive data displays Tom Cruise plays with in Minority Report. Whatever way it’s used, AR technology relies on GPUs for both image processing and computer vision.

In the case of Lego toys, consumers often want to know what the finished product will look like, but assembling the sets can take hours. Giving potential buyers (i.e., kids) a virtual experience of the finished set can make them more excited about it, helping drive sales. To help consumers understand the product better before purchase, metaio created something called the Lego Digital Box. Consumers in Lego stores take the product they’re interested in and hold it up to the Digital Box screen to see a real-time 3D animation of the finished construction – from any angle and in perfect detail. The kiosk – which uses a webcam in conjunction with metaio AR technology – has been such a success that Lego is rolling it out to its stores worldwide.

metaio uses NVIDIA GeForce 285 GTX GPUs to create its high-performance AR displays. The Lego models involve millions of polygons, displayed in real-time 3D HD. To deliver the necessary performance and quality, metaio uses CUDA programming to perform the computationally intensive image processing algorithms.

Other metaio projects include AR games packaged with special editions of Adidas shoes and work with the automobile industry. You can learn more (and see a gallery of their work) at their website.