Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Google takes one tiny step closer to the world beneath the world

If you put a virtual work of art in the real world for everyone to see — say, a beautiful sculpture in a park — you wouldn’t want it to disappear overnight. That’s why Google ’s upgrading its ARCore augmented reality platform with what it’s calling a “save button” for AR: to store the locations of your creations indefinitely. So the next time someone thinks to whip out their phone in that same park, they could see the wonderful things you’ve left behind.

Technically, the feature is known as “Persistent Cloud Anchors,” and it’s not a new idea. For instance, Microsoft’s upcoming Minecraft Earth game uses the company’s own Azure Spatial Anchors, which also last a while.

But until today, Google’s version only stuck around for 24 hours and was mostly designed for a quick shared augmented reality session where you could have a few different Android and iOS phones aimed at the same virtual objects.

Augmented reality tech is moving slowly enough that it was a pretty impressive feat at the time: Google tells that we’re still just talking about storing the locations of virtual objects, not the actual 3D objects — each ARCore app developer would store your actual creations themselves — so we’re not yet talking about building a single shared Metaverse you can see by looking through the window of your phone. (Nor is that necessarily the goal.)

Here’s Google’s current level of ambition: “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.”

For now, it’s going to be individual apps like this MarkAR, where people leave virtual graffiti for others to discover — but only those using MarkAR as well: Google also says it hasn’t yet decided how long “persistent” anchors will stick around; only that it won’t delete ones that are in active use, and that it’s hoping to work with developers to figure it out.

But it’s not hard to imagine a Google, the search company, wanting to eventually become the portal through which you discover the world beneath the world: layers upon layers of user-generated virtual content that may someday exist. For Google, this is one tiny step closer to that.

Google also says it’s making cloud anchors a little easier to use today and bringing its Augmented Faces API to iOS. You can read more about each in the company’s blog post.

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