Google Joins the Augmented Reality Party with ARCore

Augmented reality is a thing, and everyone in tech seems to agree that it will soon become a very important thing. But what do people want to do in AR? What kinds of products and services do they need? What platforms will they use? What do developers need and want in order to make great AR products? Lots of companies in tech smell opportunity (and money) in helping sort those things out. That’s why Google’s launching its first augmented-reality software development kit, called ARCore, to help developers start making cool stuff in AR.

The software works on most recent Android phones and doesn’t require any special hardware. No dual-camera setup necessary, no wacky Project Tango depth sensor. Google’s AR and VR efforts have always focused on working for everyone. This one’s not for everyone, strictly speaking, but it will work on 100 million existing Android phones and most others going forward. That’s a good start.

The ARCore SDK puts three new things in developers’ toolkits. It offers super-fine motion tracking, using the sensors in your phone and the camera to keep virtual objects anchored in place. It also detects tables, floors, rugs, and walls, so you can actually place things where they make sense. ARCore maps and matches the lighting wherever you are, which makes the AR objects look a little more like real things in the room. Developers who work with the Unity and Unreal engines can work in ARCore, or they can use more common Java and OpenGL tools. Along with Google’s other content-creator tools like Tilt Brush, Blocks, and the Virtual Positioning Service (which enables world-scale AR, not just room-sized), and Google has a surprisingly complete AR setup.

Google

As part of a briefing on the new products, I tried a couple of early ARCore demos. First, I helped build a virtual village on a real tabletop in Google’s offices. I dropped a couple of small green trees, a house, a mountain, and two waving Android mascots onto the table. They didn’t do much, and one of…

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