Google Announces ARCore, Its Augmented Reality Platform For Android Smartphones

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Google has launched its own augmented reality platform for the Android operating system called ARCore. The new ARCore SDK is now available to developers, but the augmented reality platform will be rolled out to majority of Android users sometime in winter 2017.

“With more than two billion active devices, Android is the largest mobile platform in the world. And for the past nine years, we’ve worked to create a rich set of tools, frameworks and APIs that deliver developers’ creations to people everywhere,” Google said on its blog.

“Today, we’re releasing a preview of a new software development kit (SDK) called ARCore. It brings augmented reality capabilities to existing and future Android phones. Developers can start experimenting with it right now.”

Google says that it’s aiming to bring ARCore to 100 million devices by the end of the preview, and it is already working alongside Samsung, Huawei, LG, Asus and others to make it possible. ARCore was developed by Google’s Android team in collaboration with the company’s VR group.

ARCore brings in augmented reality features that are already present on Tango-enabled phones, the Phab 2 Pro and the ZenFone AR, to a wider range of users. The SDK works with Java/OpenGL, Unity and Unreal engines. ARCore concentrates on three things: motion tracking, environmental understanding and light estimation.

Motion tracking is vital in AR experience as it determines the position and orientation of the phone as users move around, while environmental understanding is for detecting horizontal surfaces where AR objects are placed. Light estimation means that ARCore is able to detect ambient light in the environment making it possible for developers to light a virtual object according to its real-life surroundings. Light estimation is also something that’s missing from Project Tango.

The only thing that separates ARCore from Project Tango is that it is unable to sense depth in real environments, as pointed out by Android Police. Tango phones are able to detect depth and measure distances by emitting infrared signals. This might not be a big deal however as Google’s plan is to make AR more widely available to Android users regardless of their phone’s hardware.

What ARCore does have is support for Visual Positioning Service (VPS), which is able to track the user’s location indoors using GPS. Data collected through VPS will then be synced across all of the user’s devices.

Another thing that Google is doing for ARCore is that it will be releasing prototype browsers for web developers so they can experiment with AR. The browsers will let developers create their own AR experiences for their websites which can run on devices powered by Android/ARCore and iOS/ARKit.

Apple introduced ARKit back in June, and it was made available to developers so they could start creating augmented reality experiences for iOS devices. ARCore appears to be Google’s answer to Apple’s ARKit, and it signals the beginning of a grander AR race.

Google’s ARCore is now available to test out on the Pixel, Pixel XL and the Samsung Galaxy S8. ARCore will only run on devices powered by Android 7.0 Nougat and above.

ARCoreGoogle’s ARCore will bring augmented reality across majority of Android smartphones running 7.0 Nougat and newer. Photo: Google VR