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A First Step On the Road to Interoperability

Dirk Groten February 11, 2014

Today Layar, Metaio and Wikitude, together with the OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) announced that there will be a demonstration of interoperability between the three browsers of our companies during the upcoming Mobile World Congress. What does it mean and is it important?

Say you’re someone hosting a big festival and are thinking “wouldn’t it be great if I could help the visitors to my event find their way using AR?”. The most popular apps for location-based AR are Layar, Junaio (by Metaio) and Wikitude. So currently you’re going to have to choose a platform and an app for your visitors to download. Or you can make three versions of your AR experience so that it will work with all three apps. Not really the ideal world for creating content for AR.

Actually already more than 4 years ago, Peter Meier (CTO of Metaio), Martin Lechner (CTO of Wikitude) and myself started meeting on a regular basis as part of the AR Standards Community. We knew that if AR was to become an important medium for connecting the physical world to the digital world, it would depend on content publishers being able to create massive amounts of content. And for that to happen, you have to make content publishers’ job easy. That is what standards are for. And one day there will be a standard in this industry. Christine Perey, the founder of the AR Standards Community, has been advocating this right from the early days of the AR Browsers in 2009. She did a great job at pushing Peter, Martin and myself to actively pursue that goal.

There isn’t yet a standard for AR. The ARML 2.0 draft specification proposed by OGC is a first small step towards such a standard, but we’re not there yet. All the companies in this industry are still innovating at a pace that makes it difficult to settle on a common language and common standard in a short period of time.

So during the fall of 2013, again with Christine holding the carrot and stick to ensure progress, we started working on a more pragmatic approach: Rather than having to finalise a standard and support it in our browsers, we (Metaio, Wikitude and Layar) decided to see what it would take to make our browsers interoperable: content made for Junaio should be displayed in Layar and Wikitude and vice versa. Seac02, also an AR browser and platform maker, joined the technical discussions. In January this year we agreed on a technical specification on how to realize interoperability. 

The past few months Stefan Misslinger from Metaio —- replacing Peter who apparently didn’t want to do the nitty-gritty work :-) —- Martin and myself collaborated to achieve this: interoperability between our apps for geo-located content. I quote Martin: 

“I think it’s fair to say that our companies never worked as close together as over the last couple of weeks :-) Was great to see that we can achieve what we wanted to achieve!”

Is this the end goal? No, of course not: Interoperability is still pretty limited. We only support a very basic set of common features. For AR to really become a mass medium, we need to go much further: support interactivity, vision-based content, 3D, etc…

It’s been great working together like this with Stefan, Peter and Martin. Even though we’re competitors, we all want the same: To see a world where AR becomes common place, where content providers populate our physical world with digital content and where end-users can see all of it with one app.


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Meet Layar: Dirk Groten

Chris Cameron January 10, 2011

As we enter the second week of January it’s time again to get to know one of Layar’s many great team members. This week we step it up a notch, as we hear from Dirk Groten, Layar’s Chief Technology Officer.

Dirk has been with Layar nearly since the beginning, and helped turned what was once just an app into a platform for third-party developers. Here’s our Q&A with the CTO.

Name, rank and serial number, soldier! Where are you from?

Long story. I was born in Luxemburg and grew up in Luxemburg, Paris, Johannesburg, Geneva and Zurich. Quite a bit of traveling actually, always following my dad where his new job was. My father is from Germany, my mother Dutch and we’ve always spoken French at home.

Living in South Africa as a kid was great and I enjoyed celebrating Christmas on the beach. After we moved to Switzerland, the first time we walked in the mountains and a cow moved behind a bush, I ran away thinking it might be a lion. Swiss wildlife huh?

I have a sister, she’s 18 months younger and has four kids (two girls and two twin boys). She lives in Zurich and the whole family got the Swiss nationality a month ago.

Your education must have been quite hectic with all that moving.

I went to French schools at all the places we lived. The nice thing about the (very centralized) French school system is that the curriculum is exactly the same in all French schools, wherever in the world. So if you move places a lot, like we did, even in the middle of a school year you’ll open the text book in your new school at exactly the same page as you left in your previous school.

At least that transition is easy, although you still need to make new friends and get used to the new teachers. That’s the hardest part of being dragged along around the world as a kid. After school, I studied physics at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and did a PhD in physics at Leiden University here in the Netherlands.

So what do you do here at Layar?

I’m CTO at Layar, so I manage the entire development team and R&D. Lately I’ve been very busy recruiting new developers for our teams in Amsterdam, Kiev and Donetsk. Also with our current growth I’ve been structuring our processes quite a bit.

We’re not a startup with 3 developers anymore so we’ve had to make some more formal agreements on our development process. During a typical day I have many meetings where we decide on new features, APIs and technologies for Layar.

And before Layar?

I used to work at KPN Mobile, a mobile telecom operator. I was involved in specifying the handsets and platform for i-mode, the first mobile internet services in Europe. It didn’t turn out to become a big success, the iPhone was the breakthrough for mobile Internet.

But I’ve been hooked up on checking my mail, searching stuff on Google and checking weather and the public transport time tables on my mobile phone since 2001 already. i-mode worked pretty well actually!

What do you like most about working at Layar?

The constant changes are the most fun part. Every month new faces, new ideas and new technologies. We’ve got to follow our instinct closely, as this is unchartered territory.

There isn’t a text book that can tell you what your next move needs to be, as a rational guy that usually bases decisions on good argumentation, I was surprised to see how strong our instincts are and how they keep us sharp.

And finally, what do you enjoy outside of Layar and technology?

I love the mountains, having spent more than 15 years in Switzerland. Mountain biking, skiing and trekking are my favorite activities. I’ve walked two weeks on the Pacific Crest trail in Washington and that’s been one of the most exhilarating experience due to the pristine nature. But also climbing the Mont Dolent on skis or the Mont Ventoux by bicycle are achievements I’m proud of.

My favorite musician is definitely Bach. The Matthew’s Passion and Christmas Oratorio are masterpieces which can’t leave anyone unmoved.


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