Minecraft creations meet the real world through augmented reality iOS app

It may be Thanksgiving Weekend over in the U.S., but at Disneyland Paris it’s Minecon, a conference devoted to all things Minecraft. And, in a glorious collision of gaming and next-level augmented reality, 13th Lab is using the opportunity to show off its latest capabilities in an iOS app, developed alongside Mojang, called Minecraft Reality.

For those who need reminding, Minecraft is to digital gaming as Lego is to physical gaming – a sandbox effort that lends itself as much to the demonstration of engineering prowess as it does to standard gameplay. 13th Lab, which also hails from Sweden, is an augmented reality outfit that uses a technique called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), also employed in autonomous vehicles such as the Mars Rover.

Minecraft Reality isn’t the first attempt to bring Minecraft worlds into the real world through augmented reality, but it’s certainly the most advanced. As this video shows, Minecraft addicts can insert their creations into their environment in a pretty fixed, non-floaty way – all the way from small objects up to entire buildings:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pOpcR7uf5U&w=560&h=315]

The $1.99 app comes with some Minecraft creations preloaded, but people can upload their own for other users to see when they pass the chosen location.

Now, this isn’t just a one-off for 13th Lab. Indeed, in many ways it’s a demonstration of the company’s new Pointcloud SDK, also launched on Saturday. The SDK is free to download for any developer who wants to build this kind of AR functionality into their iOS app (Android’s on the horizon too) and, according to 13th Lab CEO Petter Ivmark, it’s a vast improvement on the previous iteration.

“Before we had a version which is pretty limited in scale and performance compared to this new one,” Ivmark told me. “We’ve taken everything up a notch, in terms of how big an area you can map. Now we can do full rooms, big areas like that. We’re working to scale this indefinitely, basically. There are a lot of valuable things you can think about if you’ve got sub-centimeter accuracy in the real world.”

The company, which also produces a Pointcloud browser for iOS, has pretty big ambitions. Ivmark talks of making a mobile device’s camera even more important than the GPS chip when it comes to navigating the world. The technology certainly must have impressed Mojang – there have been very few partnerships around Minecraft, despite the game’s extreme popularity. (One, amazingly, is with the United Nations.)

And if this tie-in can get people using augmented reality for more than just marketing-related stuff, all the better.