During Google’s recent I/O conference, a handful of AR releases stole the show. Those include Multi-Search Near Me for visual search and Google’s second big swing at AR glasses. Though still in concept form, they’re much more refined and practical than Google Glass ever was.
But through all this, a considerable AR update was overshadowed: the ARCore Geospatial API. That boring-sounding name was probably the reason for its understated appeal in tech press and event buzz. But it could have an outsized impact in democratizing advanced geo-local AR.
In that spirit, we break down the I/O conference session for this week’s XR Talks, with video and narrative takeaways below.
Before going into details of the Geospatial AR API, some background is in order. For AR to work, it needs a dimensional map of a given space. Of course, there’s rudimentary AR like early versions of Pokémon Go, but that involves “floating stickers” without environmental interaction.
Similarly, with AR navigation such as Google Live View, AR devices must localize themselves, before they can know where to place directional arrows… and not lead people off a cliff. Whether it’s gaming, navigation or other AR use cases, this environmental understanding is critical.
Google is uniquely positioned here because it has served for the past 20+ years as the world’s search engine. Its knowledge graph contains indexed images, which fuel the AI behind Google Lens. And Street View Imagery provides visual positioning and localization for AR navigation.
With that backdrop, Google has taken this capability and spun it out for developers. And that brings us back to the geospatial API. It lets developers build AR apps around Google’s geolocal AR framework so they can hit the ground running with the work that Google has already done.
The outcome, like Niantic’s work with Lightship, will be scale and crowdsourced creativity. Google can only build so many AR apps. By putting the tools in the hands of developers, they’ll come up with creative use cases for location-relevant AR – from gaming to restaurant discovery.
Here, Google points to a few use cases that could be prime areas of development for geospatial AR. They include ridesharing and micro-mobility. For example, directional arrows and overlays can tell you where to pick up your scooter, or visually highlight your arriving Uber in a crowded area.
Another use case is what Google calls location-based activations. These involve experiences at a music festival, sporting venue or airport. The idea is to provide wayfinding and other promotions in and around these venues to help customers and attendees deepen their experiences.
Lastly, Google points to gaming and self-expression as areas that the geospatial API can empower. These include AR scavenger hunts or Pokémon Go-like experiences. It’s also about artwork and generally adding digital depth to real-world waypoints for others to enjoy.
We’ll pause there and cue the full video below, including drill-downs on how the software works…