By Dominik Bosnjak

Snapchat maker Snap patented a technology for building and managing an augmented reality (AR) database, as revealed by a set of filings published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday. The original patent application was submitted in 2015 — when Snap was still called Snapchat — though it was n0t officially approved until recently. According to the documents, the company devised a way to create immersive AR experiences with little processing power and data. Instead of relying on powerful smartphone hardware and tracking solutions to determine where a user is located in real time and render an AR element on their phone screen, Snap’s patent describes a robust database of images that would allow the firm to pre-place as many virtual objects around the world as it wants while calculating a user’s location in an efficient manner.

Once created, the image database would serve as the basis for any AR solution that would only have to determine where a user is looking at before being able to provide them with an immersive experience without using significant processing power. Following a GPS ping that would identify the user’s general location, the system would start cross-referencing the image from the camera of their device with “structure facade data,” a massive database of images and recordings of the same place, in an effort to determine their exact location and render AR elements on their screen. In theory, this wouldn’t only allow for a more seamless augmented reality platform, but would also lead to one that wouldn’t be as power-hungry as existing systems.

Snap’s patent doesn’t specify how the system would handle different lighting conditions nor does it mention artificial intelligence (AI), though it does reference potential applications in connected eyewear that’s similar to the company’s recently released Spectacles. The Venice, Los Angeles-based company often touted augmented reality as one of the main factors that differentiate Snapchat from its competitors thanks to the platform’s comprehensive use of Filters. While Facebook and Facebook’s Instagram followed suit with that technology shortly after Snapchat started boasting tens of millions of users, the social media giant is apparently still looking to innovate in this field and an update on the company’s efforts to do so may follow soon.