With Daydream VR platform practically dead (except as an open source project) some may have been left wondering if Google has given up on the entire mixed reality venture. Especially since the last major updated to its phone-based augmented reality platform was in May at Google I/O 2019. Now it seems that the company is making up for last time and is announcing an upcoming new feature that not only expands the platform’s capabilities, it also makes that new capability available even for phones with only one camera.
That last bit is actually crucial considering only the Pixel 4 has more than one camera anyway. That said, it does also make ARCore more available to mid-range phones, the ones that often don’t have that many image sensors on their back. Presuming they also have the processing power for all the computational tricks needed by this new ARCore Depth API.
One of the biggest problems for AR is placing virtual objects on the real world in a convincing way, especially when there are physical obstacles like couches, tables, or trees. Very crude AR systems would just overlay objects on top just like what AR stickers do. More sophisticated implementations make use of multiple cameras or some depth sensors to provide the necessary distance information.
That’s what makes this new Depth API almost magical. With just one camera, ARCore is able to create 3D depth maps by computing different images taken by the phone in real-time as you move your phone around. ARCore is able to gain an almost accurate 3D model of the world with only just one “eye”, and all in real-time.
ARCore Depth API isn’t just about hiding AR objects behind real-world things, though. It also makes it possible to implement semi-realistic physics, with bullets and projectiles hitting and bouncing off walls, floors, trees, and other items. At the moment, the ARCore Depth API is available to a limited number of developers but it could hopefully reinvigorate Android’s AR ecosystem once the final version becomes available to the public.