10 of the Best Augmented Reality Software Development Kits

From product-specific offerings from companies like Apple and Microsoft to open source options, we take a look at 10 of the best augmented reality software development kits for developers.
  • According to market research reports augmented reality (AR) is expected to hit an inflection point in the next year. From games to enterprise and retail, demand for quality AR experiences on smartphones and other devices is growing. The enterprise space represents a particularly interesting market, wherein products like the new Google Glass Enterprise and Microsoft Hololens are aimed at transforming all levels of the product design lifecycle from ideation all the way to factory production.

    Developers looking to get into AR have a large variety of software development kits (SDKs) to choose from. Some are device specific, others are targeted at specific applications, and still others are even completely open source.

    We present a breakdown of 10 of the most popular AR SDKs for developers to look at. If you're looking into getting into AR, particularly for enterprise applications, these are some of your best options.

    Click through to see the slideshow.

     

  • Microsoft Mixed Reality

    If you agree with Microsoft that Mixed Reality (MR) is really where it's at you'll want to check out Microsoft's SDK for the Hololens and Mixed Reality. The company offers a number of free online tutorials on building MR apps and experiences through its Windows Dev Center, as well as several open-source projects to get developers familiar with coding for Hololens. Aside from Hololens, Microsoft's Mixed Reality Development Kit will also let developers design for any of the Windows mixed reality headsets being released by third parties including Acer, Dell, and Asus.

    (image source: Microsoft)  

  • Apple ARKit

    At its most recent WWDC conference Apple talked a big game about its future investment in AR. Starting with the release of iOS 11 (now available as a public beta), developers will be able to download ARKit, Apple's SDK for creating AR for the iPhone and iPad. ARKit works with third-party graphics engines including the popular Unity and Unreal Engine. The iPhone has always set the standard when it comes to smartphone camera and sensor quality and Apple is no doubt betting on the technology under the hood of the iPhone and iPad to deliver superior AR experiences. Couple this with rumors that the iPhone 8 will have even more AR-focused hardware and that Apple may be developing its own head-mounted display for VR or AR and it's clear there could be big demand for AR apps on Apple devices in the near future.

    Given Apple's reputation for keeping all of its technology on lockdown, developers should expect ARKit to become the go-to (and company preferred) way of creating AR experiences and apps optimized for Apple products.

    (image source: Apple)  

  • Vuforia

    Vuforia is a third-party AR SDK released by PTC Inc. Vuforia provides APIs for C++, Java, Objective C++, and .Net. It allows for development for iOs, Android, and Tango devices as well as Unity-based AR apps. Any app created with Vuforia should work with the latest iPhones and iPads and with Android phones and tablets running Android OS 2.2 or newer. In May Vuforia added a new feature called Model Targets that allows developers to create apps that can detect and track objects using existing 3D models. Vuforia also supports the Vuzix M300 enterprise smart glasses (shown).

    If you want to use Vuforia and its associated plugins for free you'll have to put up with a watermark being placed on your imagery. For others Vuforia offers a variety of paid license plans depending on your needs starting at $99 a month.

    (image source: Vuzix)

  • Google Tango

    With Google Glass having re-emerged with a focus on enterprise (shown) it's a good time for developers to familiarize themselves with Tango, Google's AR computing platform. Tango comes in three flavors for developers – a Unity SDK targeted mainly at creating 2D and 3D games, and, depending on whether you prefer Java or C (via the Android Native Development Kit) for coding Android apps, there are APIs for each language respectively.

    There are currently two smartphones on the market with Tango built in – the Phab 2 Pro from Lenovo and the Asus ZenFone AR, both of which boast sensor and camera technology optimized for AR. While it doesn't have the largest product ecosystem right now, you can bet Google will push for Tango to become a standard in Android AR app development the same way Apple will push ARKit for iOS devices.

    (image source: Google)  

  • Wikitude

    The Wikitude SDK is one of the older SDKs on the block, having first been released in 2008. However Wikitude has always kept its technology current. In addition to the standard bells and whistles of AR dev kits – including object recognition and tracking, 3D model rendering, and video overlay – as of this year, the latest versions of Wikitube now support Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology.

    SLAM is the same technology that many autonomous cars use to track themselves within an environment. Wikitude leverages SLAM to allow developers to map environments and display AR content without the need for target markers. What this mean is that devs can create apps that recognize real-world objects. Wikitude supports Android and iOS devices through native and Javascript SDKs as well as support for smart glasses from Vuzix, Epson, and ODG.

    The company offers a free trial version, but if you want the full version you'll have to go with one of Wikitude's various licensing plans. A one-time fee plan starts at about $2300 and a subscription package, which offers additional product support starts at about $2900 annually.

    (image source: Wikitude)

  • Kudan

    European developers may want to take a look at UK-based Kudan for your AR development needs. Like Wikitude, Kudan also leverages SLAM technology for recognition of simple images and objects as well as markerless tracking.

    At its core Kudan is built using a combination of C++ and assembly language, which the company says makes it ideal for running on head-mounted displays or being embedded in a chipset with a minimal memory footprint. Kudan offers support for iOs and Android via native and Java SDKs and also supports integration with the Unity game engine.

    Kudan offers a free version, but a business license will run about $1230 annually.

    (image source: Kudan)  

  • ARToolKit

    What about open-source augmented reality development? ARToolKit has you covered in that realm. Not surprisingly this open-source library supports the widest variety of platforms of all the AR development kits -- Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, Linux, as well as various smart glasses.

    Open source can come with as many cons as pros, however, meaning ARToolKit doesn't integrate the latest and best technologies. However it does allow for plugin integration with Unity and some simple object and positional tracking capabilities.

    Still, you can't argue with the price ($0.00) for what it offers, making it an ideal option for research, education, and hobbyist AR developers.

    (image source: ARToolKit / Ádám Horváth)

  • Augumenta

    Augumenta takes a template-based approach to AR development and is very much targeted at creating AR for enterprise applications. The platform's SmartPanel allows developers to create customizable panel interfaces for industrial machines and other equipment such as medical devices.

    Coupled with this, the SmartAlert template allows for the creation of applications that can send users alerts and controls under certain conditions. As a basic example, think of a worker on a factory floor wearing a pair of AR glasses, and being alerted of a machine malfunction and being given the option to disable the machine if necessary.

    Augumenta also produces what it calls an Interaction Platform SDK that allows developers to implement hand gesture, voice, and touch control to AR apps. Augumenta's SDK is available in three flavors – Android Java, Unity 3D, or C/C++ and is compatible with a variety of smart glasses including Google Glass, Hololens, and Epson Moverio.

    The company will quote prices based on your needs and use case, but also offers a free three-month trial.

    (image source: Augumenta)  

  • Bosch CAP

    For those particularly interested in creating AR for technical and repair applications, Bosch has created its Common Augmented Reality Platform (CAP) for creating AR technical documentation experiences. CAP allows developers to use combination of text, video, pictures, audio, 3D models, as well as diagrams and technical drawings, to create interactive AR repair guides.

    Bosch says the CAP could be applied across a variety of industries, but right now it is heavily targeting it at the automotive industry for tasks such as service and repair, sales and marketing, and interactive user manuals. The SDK is compatible with Windows, Android, and iOS.

    (image source: Bosch)  

  • EasyAR

    EasyAR bills itself as a free alternative to SDKs like Vuforia and supports Android, Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Unity, and Windows 10's Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

    Registering for the service grants immediate access to a library of free AR tools including QR code scanning, video playback, Unity support, and planar image tracking.

    For developers looking for more EasyAR also offers a pro $499 version that includes screen recording, 3D object tracking, and SLAM.

    (image source: EasyAR)

 

Have you got into AR development? Do you have a preferred SDK? Let us know in the comments! 


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Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

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