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Google laying the groundwork for ‘persistent’ AR layers over the real world

Last year, ARCore gained Cloud Anchors to make possible social and collaborative augmented reality apps. Google is now opening the door for one vision of AR where the technology is used to overlay a virtual layer on top of the real world.

Cloud Anchors let devices create a 3D feature map from visual data onto which anchors can be placed. The anchors are hosted in the cloud so multiple people can use them to enable shared real world experiences.

One example of Cloud Anchors is Google’s Just a Line experience. The app lets you and another person virtually draw in the same space. This can be used collaboratively for joint work or a back-and-forth game.

Google is now introducing persistent Cloud Anchors that “last over an extended period of time” and don’t get deleted after you’re done with an app. They are anchored by recognizing a specific latitude and longitude, with developers currently maintaining their own database of Cloud Anchors and locations. This “save button for AR” ensures that “digital information overlaid on top of the real world can be experienced at any time.” Possible use cases include:

Imagine working together on a redesign of your home throughout the year, leaving AR notes for your friends around an amusement park, or hiding AR objects at specific places around the world to be discovered by others.

One example of the ARCore feature in action is Mark AR:

Persistent Cloud Anchors are powering Mark AR, a social app being developed by Sybo and iDreamSky that lets people create, discover, and share their AR art with friends and followers in real-world locations. With persistent Cloud Anchors, users can continuously return back to their pieces as they create and collaborate over time.

According to Google, this is an “important step toward bridging the digital and physical worlds to expand the ways AR can be useful in our day-to-day lives.” Persistent Cloud Anchors are a “look to the future,” and Google wants developers to “explore and test” the technology in the “real-world apps at scale.”  An early access program is opening today before the tech is made more widely available.

In the near term, ARCore 1.12 is rolling out other Cloud Anchor improvements. When creating one, more angles across larger areas are captured to create a “more robust 3D feature map.” Additionally, shared AR experiences can load faster, thanks to multiple anchors in a scene being resolved simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the Augmented Faces API for creating high-quality 3D meshes to overlay effects without an on-device depth sensor is coming to iOS. Both platforms benefit from a new developer template to make face effects easier to create.

9to5Google‘s Take

The promise of augmented reality is being able to literally see data right in front of your eyes. Google is laying the necessary groundwork for “persistent” AR layers filled with convenient information. These new Cloud Anchors become especially interesting in the context of a centralized database in which a mass of people participate. Google could one day leverage its Google Maps corpus as that foundation, and have the most information-rich service for AR glasses and devices of the future.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: