Smartphone applications will offer a new type of experience
Internet search provider Baidu Inc unveiled an augmented reality lab on Jan 16 in Beijing to build smartphone-based AR applications.
The new lab will leverage the group's more than 600 million mobile-based users to explore AR applications powered by artificial intelligence technology, such as image recognition and object detection.
Baidu's self-driving car at an exhibition in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily
"Our cellphone-based approach has enabled us to ship augmented reality experiences to a significant number of users in a very short amount of time," said Andrew Ng, chief scientist of Baidu, who heads the company's research arm.
"There is an appetite for this technology and we are seeing its rapid adoption by our partners in a range of industries," he noted.
Since August, it has rolled out a range of AR-based marketing solutions for brands including L'Oreal China and KFC, providing interactive experiences for customers to learn about the latest products and offerings, Baidu said.
Now users can access AR functions through a number of gateway apps like Mobile Baidu, Baidu Maps and group-buying site Baidu Nuomi. After typing in certain key words, users can choose to see AR effects related to the searched terms.
Along with the move, the lab also launched a project that "recreated" lost historical sites along a Beijing subway line using AR technology. The AR effects can be activated by turning on the camera function inside the Mobile Baidu app and then taking a picture of the old city gate photos inside subway stations.
It will signal a future in which AR could become a main method of navigating the Internet, said Zhou Zhiping, founder of Shanghai-based ICT consultancy Douzhi.
"AR marketing is going to be a new source of revenue for Chinese tech firms. Baidu has put a special focus on mobile applications, because they are more accessible than hardware and can better leverage the company's existing online services," he said.
The global AR software market is expected to reach $30 billion by 2020, thanks to the popular game Pokemon GO, according to estimates from technology research firm TrendForce.
Chinese tech giants are already flocking to the AR arena. Alipay launched a location-based AR game that lets players collect virtual red packets containing money.