Today Google has officially introduced its answer for Apple’s ARKit which was unveiled back in June. It’s called ARCore, and it’s a software development kit (SDK) that will enable augmented reality capabilities for existing and upcoming Android smartphones, without the need for any additional hardware.
So it looks like Tango is dead. Tango is Google’s previous AR-focused effort, which requires a host of dedicated hardware on handsets that support it. Thus, so far we’ve only seen the Lenovo Phab2 Pro and Asus Zenfone AR boasting Tango functionality.
It’s clearly hard for makers of mainstream Android phones to add all those additional sensors, which is where ARCore should come in handy. It’s available to developers in preview form today, and as of now works on Google’s Pixels and Samsung’s Galaxy S8.
The device compatibility situation will change in the future, though, as Google assures us that it’s working together with Samsung, Huawei, LG, Asus, and others to make ARCore available on many more phones. ARCore is expected to eventually run on “millions of devices”. It works with Java/OpenGL, Unity, and Unreal, and has three main areas of focus: motion tracking, environmental understanding, and light estimation.
For motion tracking the phone’s camera is used to observe “feature points in the room”, and ARCore determines both the position and orientation of the handset as it moves, while virtual objects remain accurately placed. Environmental understanding means ARCore can detect horizontal surfaces such as floors or tables (onto which AR objects are commonly placed) using the same feature points as for motion tracking. ARCore also observes the ambient light in the environment and allows developers to light virtual objects in ways that match, making them appear even more realistic – this is the light estimation part.
Google is releasing prototype browsers for web developers so they can start experimenting too, as these browsers allow them to create AR-enhanced websites and run them on both Android with ARCore and iOS with ARKit. The company promises it will have more to share about ARCore “later this year”. In the meantime, it’s showcasing some AR experiments it deems interesting through this website.