How to make an Augmented Reality App
I’m a final year Civil Engineering/Business student at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Throughout my degree I haven’t used any form of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) technology, despite people saying it’s going to have a huge impact on the world. I understand though, as there is so much other content to cover specifically related to engineering. So much maths. Maths all the time.
In the past few months while completing my final year, I’ve gone from knowing nothing about AR/VR, to developing my first Android app and putting it in the Play Store. I’ve done this without spending any money and without much experience in coding or app development (I have developed a couple of small Android apps but never put anything on the Play Store).
This step by step guide will teach you how to get started building AR applications for Android. This is the exact process I used, except it took me ages to figure it all out.
If you have any issues with the below steps, comment below or visit our good friend Google. I use a PC, so this process is for PC users.
1) Download and install Unity (approx. 1 hour)
Download here: https://store.unity.com/
Unity is a free piece of software that’s typically used to create games. I’m not a game developer and I’ve only been using this software for a few months so forgive me if anything I say here isn’t correct, but it’s my understanding.
Unity is the least intimidating development package I’ve used. There is tons and tons of menus built in to Unity which means that coding is kept to a minimum for your basic needs. Obviously as you go forward and build an actual app, you’ll need to implement a fair amount of code.
Unity has a pretty good amount of tutorials and information on their website and most questions can be answered there. If not, a quick Google search (will probably lead you to StackOverflow) will solve most beginner problems.
2) Download and install Android Studio (approx. 1 hour)
You need to download Android Studio here: https://developer.android.com/studio/ and then install all the most recent SDK’s.
You then need to tell Unity the location of your Android install. Follow this tutorial: https://docs.unity3d.com/540/Documentation/Manual/android-sdksetup.html
Ok now you’ve got Unity and Android Studio, you’re ready to start developing apps.
3) Build an AR app using Vuforia and Matthew Hallberg (approx. 2 hours)
I credit Matthew Hallberg with teaching me AR development. He has a whole bunch of tutorial videos on developing AR apps. He explains everything really well and slows it right down for beginners. If you’re reading this Matthew, thanks a lot.
The first type of AR I recommend learning is called marker-based AR. It means pointing your phone at an image (of your choosing) and then digital content appears on top of that image.
The technology to make this work is called Vuforia, which is free. Watch this video (by my favourite man) to learn marker-based AR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgd21lbhikU&t=1s
Or this one is good as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khavGQ7Dy3c&t=199s
But there is tonnes of good stuff on YouTube, just search for “Vuforia Augmented reality tutorial” and find someone you like.
The basic process is this:
· Upload an image to Vuforia
· Vuforia develops an image with tracking points
· You then use this image in Unity as your marker
· You build your digital AR content on top of this marker
· Load the app to your phone and it works
Congratulations!!! You just built your first ever augmented reality app!!!
It’s seriously simple to get started.
4) Build an AR app using ARCore (approx. 2 hours)
ARCore is the software from Google that turns your regular smartphone camera into an augmented reality camera. ARCore is “markerless” augmented reality. Meaning you just need to find a flat surface to start the AR experience.
It’s a seriously amazing bit of tech. A normal colour camera combined with the accelerometer (and lots of maths) is now able to detect flat surfaces and depth. But you don’t really need to know how ARCore works in order to utilise its benefits.
There is one guy I recommend watching to learn ARCore. His YouTube is “Pirates Just AR” and he’s a seriously clever guy from Australia that explains how the how thing works. It’s very interesting if you want the background of how it all works. Otherwise just skip to the parts that are of interest to you. He has created a whole series of videos on getting started with ARCore. Check him out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuqVdyk3I8wUtqOAzCoQJIA/videos
Start with this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpH4q1YNUBk&t=285s
5) Stack overflow
Now that you know how to build apps you are going to run into a consistent string of barriers. Stack Overflow https://stackoverflow.com/ is your number one friend. Chances are, if you’re having an issue, someone else has had it before. Search hard before asking a question, because the smart people hate answering questions that have already been answered.
YouTube continues to teach me almost everything I know about AR. Some of the stuff is hidden on tiny little channels with almost no views. This stuff is like gold when you find it.
7) That’s it!
How easy was that?! I hope I’ve managed to, at the very least, change your perceptions towards the development of augmented reality apps. I hope I have helped someone develop their first app, and maybe start them down the path of AR development.
What questions do you have?
Run into issues?
Have I changed your perception of AR development?
Would you like a version of this post for iOS devices?
Can you recommend any other YouTubers?