An app that shows you what’s beyond the wall

Destination points are plotted on the image produced by the phone camera, giving an augmented view

Arjun Bharadwaj founded the Look Around app in the I-MACX lab of IIT Bangalore. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Arjun Bharadwaj founded the Look Around app in the I-MACX lab of IIT Bangalore. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Imagine it’s the first time you are visiting the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) campus in Bengaluru. You may want to locate the classrooms for first-year students, the hostel or the canteen.

Pull out your smartphone, download and open the app Look Around. It may seem like you just turned on your phone camera.

Hold your phone against any wall in the campus and the app will show you what’s beyond the wall. Pins will start popping up to show where and how far is your destination.

The destination points are plotted on the image produced by the phone camera, giving an augmented view of reality. Look Around was founded, in a short span of four months, by 25-year-old former IIIT-B student Arjun S. Bharadwaj in the I-MACX lab of the institute.

“When I joined IIIT-B in 2013 for doing M. Tech in data science, my professors wanted me to develop a product that has a real-world value. Google glasses were announced and augmented reality was a hot topic then. So, I started working on creating an app which can give a virtual experience of a place, without actually going to that place,” said Bharadwaj.

“What the app can do is to simulate an augmented reality on the phone, overlaying on the real-world display of your present location coordinates with details of landmarks around the place. And if the desired destination is not there, there’s always a search tab to rely on,” said Bharadwaj.

The app was first tested in the campus before it was launched on the Android platform. According to IIIT-B professor Ramesh Sundararaman, it has immense potential if developed further.

“It’s more like Google Sky than Google Maps or Street View. The new bunch of students who came after Arjun Bharadwaj is developing the app further in the lab. We want to integrate Bluetooth and other wearable devices support for the app so that it could aid visually impaired too. We are also working to enhance the indoor navigation part,” said Sundararaman.

Users can sign in with their Google+ account to create maps with landmarks, said Bharadwaj. “There’s no admin. In that sense, users are both creators and consumers of the app content,” he said.

Hardware requirements are minimal. The phone should have GPS, accelerometer and a gyroscope—all common in smartphones.

Bharadwaj, who had started creating apps, was excited by the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, but was not able to afford one. In the meantime, he attended Android development workshops.

In 2011, he developed an SMS-based app to get the bus routes in Bengaluru in txtWeb, an SMS platform for mobile app developers. Within a few days, it became the third most used app in txtWeb.

Later, in 2012, he published another app called @tickr in txtWeb, allowing users to create groups and send bulk messages to members. @tickr picked up steam after an initial slow period. According to Bharadwaj, within four hours, the free quota of Google App Engine, where the app was hosted, was exhausted. Users had started sharing cricket scores and live match updates, among various other things, using the app, accounting to more than 70% of SMS sent in txtWeb.

In 2013, Bharadwaj published the bus app for Android and came up with another app called High School Physics to help physics students “without having to be drowned in the sea of mathematical equations”.

They were all well-received, but the joy was short-lived as he lost his key file used to sign in to Android.

“That was like drowning. But then I started taking online courses to explore developing more complicated and sophisticated apps, which later led me to IIIT-B and Look Around,” said Bharadwaj.

After completing his ongoing internship at an IT company, Bharadwaj said he would develop Look Around further. “It could act like a guide in museums and historic places. It could help real estate agents for indoor navigation and in shopping malls. It has various potentials that I haven’t yet unlocked,” he said.

“But anyway,” Bharadwaj continued with a pause, “Look Around will continue to be a free app in future. At its core, it will be a social enterprise.”

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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