Snapchat’s stickers allow users to place colorful virtual drawings on photos and video — but a recently published patent application suggests that Snap Inc. is also working on an augmented reality version that places two-dimensional stickers on a camera feed in real time. The patent, filed in 2015 when Snap Inc. was still Snapchat, but only published last week on May 4, describes a method for placing virtual objects from a large database into camera data from a smartphone or pair of virtual reality goggles.
The patent application tackles the idea of a sticker-like database for two-dimensional virtual objects, and simplifies the process so that it doesn’t require so much computing power. The system would mix GPS data and a set of images of the location provided by the user to generate depth estimates. That “structure facade data” helps place a two-dimensional “sticker object” pulled from a large library of similar graphics in a realistic way, the patent suggests.
The patent filing appears to tackle still objects and adds moving virtual objects to the scene. Using user-snapped photos simplifies the process of depth mapping, while the database of stickers is pre-designed to be placed into scenes mapped with the camera. The GPS determines where you are looking so the processor can focus on just the direction you are viewing. That potentially translates into a virtual reality system that doesn’t require so much processing power, theoretically making it accessible across a number of devices.
The patent documents says the system could work with mobile phones or from augmented reality helmets, visors, or glasses — the paperwork even includes what appears to be a drawing of an updated Spectacles that would work with the virtual reality system.
Many filed applications for patents don’t ever actually make it to reality, but the paperwork gives us a glimpse into what Snapchat has been researching. Snapchat’s stickers are one of the app’s popular features, now imitated on other apps, and the paperwork suggests a similar sticker database could make it possible for anyone to create an augmented reality scene.