Hands-on: Augmented reality Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots

If any one thing could be called the star feature at Qualcomm's Uplinq developers' conference, in San Diego, USA, it was augmented reality (AR). The chipset manufacturer was keen to hawk around its Android-based development tools, and, considering the quality of the showpiece games app, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, it has good reason to do so.

Developed for Mattel, the creator and owner of the original plastic Rock 'Em (also on display on its booth), by Qualcomm's sparkling new AR games studio at Georgia Tech University, the new game uses an Android 2.1 handset with a Snapdragon processor, its camera and a game board target to place controllable rendered robots in a boxing ring. It combines both graphics and the real-life camera feed to create a virtual play arena for two players (on two phones).

The robots can be manoeuvred around the target and, essentially, belt seven shades of rust out of each other, with the winner being the last one standing. Now, this kind of two-player action isn't especially new or different, but the way that each phone display uses both real-world and rendered visuals, scalable the closer you get to the mat, adds a level of immersion and physicality not usually associated with two-player mobile games.

The mat needn't be massive either. Thanks to intelligent mapping techniques, the application works equally as well on an A4 print out, albeit in a smaller way. And as the technology also uses the compass for location, you can move around the play area, with the 3D objects turning applicably.

Unfortunately, though, there are currently no plans to bring Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots to an Android phone anytime soon. This game has essentially been created to demonstrate the potential of Qualcomm's development kit and system. A spokesman for Mattel hinted to Pocket-lint that for the game to be financially viable, it would need to become available on multiple devices and operating systems. He even said "imagine the possibilities of an AR game on the iPad". When it gets a camera, of course - iPad 2 anyone?

However, considering the quality of this specific application, we hope that a business model, and therefore a release date, becomes a firm reality soon. Augmented or not.