A Snapchat patent application shows off one idea for displaying smoother augmented reality images while using less processing power: build a giant image database, detect where a user is looking, and insert digital objects that you’ve pre-placed to look good. The application, published yesterday but filed in late 2015, could apply to either a phone-based app or to augmented reality glasses. In the process it covers, Snapchat would first pinpoint a user’s approximate location with GPS or a similar system. Then, it would match images from the user’s camera against a set of what the filing calls “structure facade data.”
If you’re in a park, for example, Snapchat could ask you to hold up your phone and capture pictures of where you are. Since it would know your location, it could match those pictures against a limited set of data and figure out what’s around you. Instead of trying to map depth and perspective on the fly, the app would grab information about the space you’re in, then use it to place objects in a preprogrammed way that looks realistic. The image below shows a simple set of decals, but as you can see above, you could also chart a path for a giant dinosaur to invade reality.
The filing’s other claims offer a lot of variations, and they cover the process of generating the database itself, which involves taking a lot of pictures and matching them to locations. They also cover taking the photos from an augmented reality helmet, visor, or glasses, complete with an illustration of some AR Spectacles. This claim is a bit of a catch-all, essentially making sure that this patent could stretch to cover whatever future technology people might use with Snapchat.
As with most patent applications, this in no way guarantees that Snapchat’s parent company Snap (still called Snapchat at the date of filing) is working on any of these systems or that it’s building augmented reality glasses. It also doesn’t guarantee that this idea would work. But it means the company is thinking of big, ambitious ways to make augmented reality fit more seamlessly into people’s lives, and that it’s been doing so for quite some time. And honestly, I just want Snapchat’s augmented reality dinosaur to fight Magic Leap’s augmented reality Gundam.