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ARf: an Augmented Reality Virtual Pet on the iPhone

ARf is our first experiment with creating an AR game on the iPhone. Play with a virtual puppy on your desk: use the touch screen to tell him where to go, or to poke and pet him! Build up a world with multiple markers so he has room to run. Give him a water bowl or a friend to play with. ARf is currently just an experiment to explore some of what’s possible with such a device, but it clearly has a lot of room to grow. As we make the system more functional, we would like to add more elaborate Pet AI and explore multiplayer interactions, so friends can play with their pets together on the same desk, or in distributed locations while sharing a common virtual space.


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    • amir on March 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    i want to try ARf on my iphone , do you have any link to download ? thank you

    • admin on March 9, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Alas, we can’t release it (or any AR app) until Apple allows video capture in apps; you can’t distribute apps that use “undocumented” SDKs. This wasn’t done on a jailbroken phone, but plain old iphones using apple’s SDK.

  1. Virtual pets and toys market is growing. It’ll be even more powerfull in the future.

    • Andy on May 10, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    So right now its isn’t possible/ not allowed to use a distributable AR app on the iphone? so if i wrote one apple would let people download it? how did that virtual santa get released? was it just written on the iphone SDK do you think?

    • admin on May 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

    @Andy You can’t make a distributable app that access the camera, except through the provided preview and picture taking APIs. The santa app takes a single picture and allows you to put Santa in it, for example. It doesn’t support “real” AR. So, if you do something with still pictures, sure, that will work. But, if you want to overlay 3D graphics on live video, you are out of luck.

    • Jose on May 11, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    @blair how did you manage to get access to the iPhone camera? can you share the code of the “hacked” API?
    I guess we’ll have to wait for mass distribution, but at least, with the hacked API, we can experiment with our own AR iPhone apps 🙂

    • WoW!!! on June 16, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I just want to say that u guys are amazing!!! Imagine a game like that but instead of pets, some kind of monsters that u grow and have a virtual fight with others… That will sell more then beer!!!

    • Greg Krohne on June 17, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    The iPhone?! I insist you port it to Android immediately for my personal entertainment and edification.

    • admin on June 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Hi Greg, how’s life? But, you’ll have to do without G1 games from us. Android doesn’t cut the mustard for real AR (as opposed to that ill-registered, wobbly text on top of video junk) since you can’t do native marker tracking, etc. I’ve heard they are adding some methods of doing JNI, which would be nice; perhaps even a JIT?

    When this happens, and someone builds real game engines like Unity3D for the G1, let me know! 🙂

    • Vincent on July 31, 2009 at 10:19 am

    First of all, this is awesome!

    Did you guys use the Artoolkit or the Studierstube tracker?
    Or did you write your own code?
    And if so is it open to other developers under any kind of license to play with?

    Sincerely, Vincent.

    • bobo on September 14, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Are you able to release a version now that the 3Gs is out?

    • Mike Orr on September 22, 2009 at 4:22 pm


    Great stuff! Would you ever consider putting this on a social networking site for pets?
    I am a relatively new site, trying to bolster traffic and content.

    Many thanks, Mike

    • Taura on February 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm


    I am wondering if you can tell me how you were able to keep the dog on the screen when the marker was not in view of the camera?

    • admin on February 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Actually, look about 1:15 into the youtube video; all the graphics disappear when no markers are fully visible.

    We could also just assume the camera doesn’t move when the marker is lost, but that tends not to work well.

    • Mina Metias on March 9, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    @Amir , did u get any reply? 😀

    • admin on May 4, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Mina, you still can’t release apps like this for the iPhone. Perhaps this summer you will be able to (OS 4.0), but we’re switching to another less restrictive platform for our research, so we are unlikely to release it on iPhone.

    • caz on May 18, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Hey I have been wating this for awhile now hopeing that you would release any of your awsome projects. I understand that apple wont allow this kind of application yet, but there are tons of people out there with jailbroken iphones. Iv been jailbroken from the very first iphone. Why cant you just release a beta version for jailbroke users. There are a lot of us and incredible apps like this cant stay locked up forever. Apple might never allow Image Tracking AR. If you have a jailbroken iphone im sure you understand cydias ability to distribute applications. You could even add a price. When you said, May 4th, that you were, “switching to another less restrictive platform for our research” I had to react. When you have already achived more than anyone else on the iphone. Its like solving the energy crises, not telling anyone anthing except that you solved it, then moving on to solve world hunger. Im sure your next projects are going to be huge succeses, but please if your just going to end your work with the iphone at least open the doors for others to continue testing it.

    • loco on October 17, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Hey, I just ran into this site 5 minutes ago and wannted to know if this has been released? I am very interested in trying it out. Seems like it would be a fun game to play.

      • admin on November 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm

      Alas, no, it hasn’t been released, and probably never will be.

    • Rob on November 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    It would seem apple do now allow overlay of animated digital content on live camera image ( ie ARgirl, SkySiege, ARDefender, StarWars)
    I think from your video that your Arf would leave most of them behind. You should release it if you’ve gotten it this far

    Looks great anyway


    • admin on November 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Rob, thanks for your kind comment.

    Arf was done a long time ago (iPhone OS 2.x), and would actually take some work to revive and get going on iOS4. The bigger issue is that a fun “pet” game requires some serious depth (ie. Nintendogs) and we can’t possibly do something at that level in the University.

    • Developer on January 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Blair, I have to say this invention is (or could be) off the wall take off in the gaming, and learning industry’s. I do understand the Depth a game Like this must undergo to actually be allowed and supported in the gaming world. To go this far though is a break threw and u really have something here that I beleave. I have no real intresting in the game my self but iv been reading up and this just caught my interest as someone who needed a motivation to set this off. So when I say this I mean the upmost respect from one developer to another, you must take a risk in this day and age. To bind a few rules is not uncanny, more people due it than u and i can even begin to know. This is a dog eats dog world and im telling you, if you blair, dont take the time to develope this or get a team, someone else will your right. I do understand the kind Of support u wil need financially but when u say “we can’t possibly do something at that level in the university.” pardon my rude language but what does that have to do with anything? The man who invented the social network face book did it all from a university in a dorm room. All that proves to me is, you don’t really care about this. If that’s true then discarded all of this and go on living your life as you where. Though if you are wanting to and have a desire to, take this information and use it. You can only limit ones self with how far you are willing to go for what you beleave in. Thank u for the time,

    Sincerely, from one developer to another.

    1. Thanks for your reply, but I don’t think you really understood me or what I meant. Rest assured, I talk with companies, VCs and others about commercialization of AR games all the time. 🙂 And am always happy to. But, at a university, there are certain things I simply can and can’t do (practically speaking). My job is to do research, and to teach. We explore ideas like this to push the boundaries of knowledge, and to educate students (those two overlap, but not always). We also take the time to post videos like this partly to inspire others. If we wanted to pursue this, the right course is to have the students take it and run with it; they are uniquely positioned to do this as they start their post-graduation lives, and GT is very interested in helping them do this. And some of our students are doing that (but not with this game idea). I also have a small company, and have been involved with helping others start companies (and, undoubtably, will continue to do so). But, to make this game real WITHIN the university is not really an option; we are working on other more novel game ideas (research), and we are also working with students to give them experience taking projects to full realization (education). But, given the constraints of time and resources, a “pet” game is not ideal; very content-heavy, not particularly novel, will be competing head-on with the big boys (who are working on this already, for things like the 3DS and PS Vita).

  2. I’m curious as Virtual Pet on the iPhone is true or not. I want to play Virtual Pet on the iPhone .

  3. Why you not develop for Virtual Pet for Android? or you’ve made it?

  4. Is this for real. If this was real I’d love to play virual pet in my iphone.

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