In this post we examine a technology with a cool name, and some pretty neat uses. SLAM stands for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. Since expanding on the abbreviation does little to demystify the meaning of the term, we have asked Metaio computer vision researcher Darko Stanimirovic to explain what SLAM is and why it’s important.
Q. In layman’s terms, what is SLAM?
Darko: “The camera found on your smartphone is essentially a “dumb” device which simply captures the light in form of numbers. A video sequence then is simply an array of images containing again, nothing but numbers. In order for a smart device to know where it is an environment, it must be able to make sense of this stream of numbers. So, to help this “dumb” camera, a dedicated computer algorithm must be used. One such algorithm is called SLAM. The SLAM algorithm consists of “localization” and “mapping” tasks. Here, “mapping” refers to a process of charting a map of the environment, while “localization” refers to camera position tracking in the space. Both of these tasks benefit from each other: the better we know the map of the environment, the easier it is to determine the position of the camera and vice versa: the better we know the camera position, the more accurate the map is going to be. That is where the “S” in SLAM comes from, because both tasks are performed in the same time, i.e. simultaneously.”
Q. Where can we find SLAM being used?
Darko: “SLAM technology is found in a variety of state-of-the-art inventions. Whether it is Google’s self-driving car, your little robot vaccuum, or even Autonomous Mars rovers, SLAM is being used to help these smart devices learn and navigate in real-world environments.”
Q. Why is SLAM important for Augmented Reality?
Darko: “The magic of AR cannot work without knowing where the camera is located, and SLAM is an important technology for determining where a smart device actually is. For example, if an AR experience is based on a holding a smartphone up to a poster, then the device needs to know where it is in relation to that poster in order to realistically “stitch” digital content into the scene, and SLAM is one of the key technologies that allow this.
SLAM can also be used to extend the known world around a smart device. SLAM helps to fill in additional details that exist in the environments of all the different users out there. We see this in IKEA’s 2014 catalogue app where a piece of virtual furniture “pops” out of from the cover of the catalogue (the known piece of information), and then the device begins to learn the environment in order to place the virtual furniture into the room in a realistic way.”
SLAM tracking technology is one of the many 3D tracking capabilities of the Metaio SDK PRO, making it the most powerful Augmented Reality development tool on the market. For more information about the Metaio SDK, check out the SDK page here.