The personal pet that everyone’s talking about
Digital pets have been a staple part of apps and games aimed at children for over twenty years. Ever since Dogz arrived on the PC, it captured the imagination of children who wanted to experience some of the joy and responsibility of owning a pet without the expense. With Dogz and its follow up, Catz, going mobile with the Nintendo, and the rise of the Tamagotchi, virtual pets became big business. Augmented reality (AR) now offers the potential to take virtual pets to the next level of interaction, and the Puppy AR App is ahead of the pack on this.
There are now many mainstream games that either revolve around pet care or the simulation of animal-orientated institutions such as zoos, but these typically remain TV or gaming device systems in which reality is removed. Puppy AR has been designed to enhance the user experience by placing the virtual pet in real environments. However, to achieve that with any degree of realism, intelligent pet characters needed to be coded to recognise the surroundings.
Puppy AR has a simplicity in its intent which belies the complexity of the code behind it. The sophisticated AI not only needed to create a realistic animal model, which was capable of growth in both physical size and virtual intelligence, but also to make it interact with physical elements within the user’s physical environment.
The major obstacles came from linking a virtual avatar with real-world environment that it inhabited via the camera. Augmented reality has become a major driving force on many industrial applications, where a virtual world can be overlaid on the real one, but these typically involve static devices and structures rather than something as playful, unpredictable and as mobile as a puppy. To introduce that highly lively element in a realistic way, was make or break for the App development, and if it was not possible to achieve, the whole project was in jeopardy.
The proof of Puppy AR comes from its use and the way with which the virtual dog element is able to identify features in its environment and either interact with them if they could be climbed over or avoid them if they were deemed dangerous. Quite apart from the social skills that a virtual pet can teach children, there is also a large degree of learning about our wider environment with such augmented reality, particularly for younger children, so the opportunities to learn are immense.
But the achievement that comes with such AR cannot be understated; the ability for the program to recognise a range of real-world items and then allow the AR to move in accordance with their spatial conditions is a huge achievement. The development team used the ARKit world tracking capability and this App shows how powerful this is.
Though they are powerful instructional tools, virtual pets are not supposed to take the place of a real ones, but Apps like Puppy AR are beginning to show just how far these can go.