Why 3d markerless tracking is difficult for mobile augmented reality
I often hear sentiments from users that they don’t like markers, and they are wondering, why there are so relatively few markerless AR around. First I want to say that there is no excuse for using markers in the static scene with immobile camera, or if desktop computer is used. Brute force methods for tracking like bundle adjustment and fundamental matrix are well developed and used for years and years in the computer vision and photogrammetry. However those methods in their original form could hardly produce acceptable frame rate on the mobile devices. From the other hand marker trackers on mobile devices could be made fast, stable and robust.
So why markers are easy and markerless are not ?
The problem is the structure , or “shape” of the points cloud generated by feature detector of the markerless tracker. The problem with structure is that depth coordinate of the points is not easily calculated. That is even more difficult because camera frame taken from mobile device have narrow baseline – frames taken form position close one to another, so “stereo” depth perception is quite rough. It is called structure from motion problem.
In the case of the marker tracker all feature points of the markers are on the same plane, and that allow to calculate position of the camera (up to constant scale factor) from the single frame. Essentially, if all the points produced by detector are on the same plane, like for example from the pictures lying on the table, the problem of structure from motion goes away. Planar cloud of point is essentially the same as the set of markers – for example any four points could be considered as marker and the same algorithm could apply. Structure from motion problem is why there is no easy step from “planar only” tracker to real 3d markerless tracker.
However not everything is so bad for mobile markerless tracker. If tracking environment is indoor, or cityscape there is a lot of rectangles, parallel lines and other planar structures around. Those could be used as initial approximation for one the of structure from motion algorithm, or/and as substitutes for markers.
Another approach of cause is to find some variation of structure from motion method which is fast and works for mobile. Some variation of bundle adjustment algorithm looks most promising to me.
PS PTAM tracker, which is ported to iPhone, use yet another approach – instead of using bundle adjustment for each frame, bundle adjustment is running in the separate thread asynchronously, and more simple method used for frame to frame tracking.
PPS And the last thing, from 2011:
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