Mobility

Google Previews ‘Android-Scale’ Augumented Reality Engine

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The ARCore technology builds on the earlier ‘Tango’ AR project – but needs no additional hardware and can run on millions of current Android devices

Google has released a preview of a new software development kit (SDK) for augmented reality (AR) in a step aimed at broadening the range of devices that can use the technology, which combines virtual objects with a real environment viewed on a device’s screen.

The ARCore development kit builds on an earlier project called Tango. But where Tango required a device to be built to particular specifications, Google is planning to roll out ARCore and its accompanying applications to existing handsets as well as future devices.

No additional hardware needed

To begin with ARCore runs on Google’s own Pixel and Samsung’s S8 handsets running version 7.0 of the Android operating system (‘Nougat’) or later.

Google said it wants the platform to be compatible with 100 million devices by the end of the SDK preview, and said it’s working with Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and other manufacturers.

Pokemon Go features real-world elements.
Pokemon Go features real-world elements.

“It works without any additional hardware, which means it can scale across the Android ecosystem,” wrote Dave Burke, vice president of Android Engineering at Google, in a blog post.

Google says Android currently runs on more than 2 billion active devices.

The SDK works with the Java/OpenGL, Unity and Unreal software engines and, like Tango, uses information provided by the device’s sensors to accurately position virtual objects on the screen, without requiring the use of GPS signals or other externally provided data.

Positioning and lighting

ARCore can detect horizontal surfaces such as floors or tables, upon which virtual objects are often placed, and track their movements, and it also detects ambient light, allowing developers to light objects so that they match their surroundings.

Google is also investing in the development of tools for building the 3D content used in AR applications and said at the recent I/O conference it’s developing Visual Positioning Service (VPS) to help build AR software.

Burke said the company is also experimenting with AR-enabled web browser prototypes and plans to release them to developers.

“These custom browsers allow developers to create AR-enhanced websites and run them on both Android/ARCore and iOS/ARKit,” Burke wrote.

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‘Project Tango’

Augmented reality has made a significant mark in games such as Niantic’s Pokemon Go, and its backers see it being used in classroom learning, architecture previews, museum tours, the recreation of ruined buildings or seeing how furniture might look in a room.

Google built two protype devices, a phone and a tablet, that demonstrated Tango’s technologies for developers, and worked with Lenovo to release a Tango-compatible phone called the Phab2 Pro last year. The two companies also announced an application incubator to encourage development for the platform.

In 2015 Qualcomm and Intel both said they would develop Tango reference devices to model the technology for manufacturers who use their chipsets.

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