napchat have launched the new feature, Local Lenses, which is one of the first large scale, persistent and collaborative uses of Augmented Reality to date. 

The concept for the innovative technology was first brought to light in June, and promised to transform towns into digital canvases. The concept has now been brought to life, launching in the area around London’s Carnaby Street.

snapchat local lenses
Image Credit: Snap

The first of what we can imagine to be many Local Lenses has been named City Painter. The idea is simple but effective, by using the camera on the Snapchat app to view Carnaby Street, City Painter allows Snapchatters to spray great fountains of red and blue paint above Carnaby’s shops, decorating the bricks with predesigned graffiti murals. Anyone on the street can see others spraying their paint, and users can battle to cover the shops in their colours.

Local Lenses is the latest feature from Snap’s camera engineering team, who are based out of London. The team also developed Landmarkers, which was the company’s first foray into Augmented Reality at scale, allowing users to place created lenses onto famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower.

snapchat experience
Image Credit: Snap

Senior Manager of Research Engineering at Snap London, Qi Pan comments that Local Lens is a much more complex application, as there is far less data to work with. For example, there is an abundance of easily accessible, 3D data of prominent public landmarks, compared to Carnaby Street, which was chosen as a fully pedestrianised area where users could aim their phone without fear of traffic.

To create City Painter, the whole of Carnaby Street had to be mapped in 3D so that users are able to paint from any angle. Visual data was then extracted from a multitude of different resources, including  analysing public Snaps of Carnaby Street shared by users.

“For Local Lenses, we’re leveraging 360-degree camera imagery,” says Pan. “Someone can just walk down the street to map it, as well as combining that with any public story Snaps that we may have of the area.”

two phones snapchat
Image Credit: Snap

Another innovative feature of City Painter is that the experience is shared, Local Lenses are persistent and synchronise with other users so that they’re able to see fellow Snapchatter’s works of art

“We have a single shared reality,” says Pan. “And when you do something to this world, someone else can see that result almost instantly. Those changes also persist if everyone leaves the experience and new people pop up the next day – they can see the space that’s been altered by yourself and others.”

Local Lenses are the latest Augmented Reality innovation for Snap, with the company claiming that there has already been over 1 million lenses created using Lens Studio, Snap’s publicly available tool for creating augmented reality experiences, which has been played with by Snapchat users billions of times. More than 75% of Snapchatters use Augmented Reality every day while using the app. All of this activity, explains Pan, trains the Snapchat camera. “We want the Snapchat camera to really understand and be intelligent about what it sees in the world.”

Snap AR app
Image Credit: Snap

City Painter represents a basic example in the development of Augmented Reality, with an ideology that every wall, building and street can have a digital copy, which could be utilised by every industry from gaming to advertisement. 

Pan concluded: 

“We envisage doing new things that couldn’t be done before, for example AR tours of neighbourhoods guided by famous people who used to live there, leaving notes, photos and videos for your friends to discover later, or playing immersive AR games together with your friends, altering the shared digital space...We’re also coming up to Halloween, in the future, we could imagine a total transformation of Carnaby Street to make it feel spooky.”

Oct 11, 2020
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