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uSens Is Making Augmented Reality for $100 Android Phones

Augmented reality (AR) for the rest of us is here: San Jose, California-based computer vision startup uSens has developed technology that makes it possible to run augmented reality apps like the ones you’d see on an iPhone X on a cheap $100 Android phone.

The company announced its new AR engine for Android phones at CES in Las Vegas this week, demonstrating the technology with a variety of phones at their booth. Much like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, uSensAR uses what’s being called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).

This essentially makes it possible for the phone to scan a room, place virtual objects in that room and display them in relation to the camera location. When a user goes closer to an object, that object scales in size — just like a real object would.

Apple was first to introduce this kind of mobile AR technology with the release of iOS 11 last fall, and has since made it available to recent-generation iPhones and iPads. Google is doing the same on Android with ARCore, but has thus far restricted the technology to a few high-end devices, like its own Pixel phones.

At the uSens booth, the company demonstrated its own AR technology with a recent-generation Samsung phone, an older LG handset and finally a $100 Android device. All devices were capable of placing a Minion on a table and render it correctly, including shadows. The performance on the budget phone was a little jerky, but still very reasonable.

uUsens has been working specifically to account for slow processors as well as poor camera sensors — all things that you’d find on a cheap prepaid handset, for example. The company said that its AR engine is compatible with 2 billion Android devices.

As a first step, uSens has struck a partnership with Spreadtrum, a Shanghai-based mobile chipset maker that wants to use it for its own Android hardware. But uSens also has plans to release a SDK for developers soon, which could use it to build AR apps for handsets that don’t support Google’s or Apple’s solution.

uSens has been building hand tracking and other computer vision solutions for VR and AR. The company raised some $26 million, with investors including Fosun Kinzon Capital, with participation from Maison Capital, Great Capital, Fortune Capital, Oriental Fortune Capital, iResearch Capital, and Chord Capital.

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