Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) have developed the world’s first augmented-reality (AR) system designed for underwater use.
The pilot application for the prototype is an underwater AR game, although future uses for professional divers are being investigated.
The main component of the FIT’s prototype AR system is a waterproof display in front of the mask, which lets the diver see the underwater environment and computer-generated virtual scenes.
An ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), which the diver wears in a backpack, detects underwater markers in the video stream from a camera on the top of the diver’s mask. Based on the pictures from the camera and on the data from inertial and magnetic field tracking of the diver’s orientation, the system generates visually correct representations of the virtual 3D scenes.
Submerged use presents major challenges for technical systems. As well as being waterproof, they must be strong enough to withstand the high additional pressure of increasing diving depth
To demonstrate the technology, the FIT created the world’s first mobile underwater AR game. It puts the diver in the role of an underwater archaeologist searching for a locked treasure chest. The playing area consists of six virtual ‘islands’ on the sea bed, each with its own unique marine wildlife. In one of the underwater locations the treasure chest can be found and a code is required to undo the lock. The numbers for the code can be found in the mussels that hide on the virtual sea bed.
‘For the player, our game combines the fascinating sensation of weightlessness under water with the fascination of advanced AR technology, creating a unique exciting experience that may become a new special attraction for water parks,’ said Lisa Blum, one of the researchers involved in the FIT’s research on collaborative virtual and augmented environments.
The FIT now anticipates studying potential uses of the submarine AR technology to support professional divers engaged in the maintenance of bridges, offshore oil rigs or dams.