Tango is (sort of) dead. We can’t say we saw this coming so soon, but with the first ever Tango device only ever being sold at a hardware store (a freakin’ hardware store, folks) and the second one struggling to capture a slice of the market, it was seemingly circling the drain.
Fear not, for Google has a proper successor to keep the flag on AR moving: ARCore. It’s a software-based augmented reality platform that is likely an answer to Apple’s ARKit, which will be in iPhones in a short couple of weeks.
The draw with ARCore is that OEMs wouldn’t have to include special depth-sensing cameras in their R&D efforts like they would have to with the original Tango. We’re not sure if there are any inherent hardware limitations other than the need for a camera, but it’s safe to say that the bulk of Android’s most capable devices will be able to take advantage.
Using standard development engines like Unity and Unreal Engine, ARCore gets its advanced functionality thanks to the following techniques:
- Motion tracking: Using the phone’s camera to observe feature points in the room and IMU sensor data, ARCore determines both the position and orientation (pose) of the phone as it moves. Virtual objects remain accurately placed.
- Environmental understanding: It’s common for AR objects to be placed on a floor or a table. ARCore can detect horizontal surfaces using the same feature points it uses for motion tracking.
- Light estimation: ARCore observes the ambient light in the environment and makes it possible for developers to light virtual objects in ways that match their surroundings, making their appearance even more realistic.
It sounds like it might not provide the same level of accuracy as a depth-sensing camera would, but machine learning algorithms prove time and time again that software alone can do some amazing things.
Oh, and did we mention all of this is happening starting today? If you have a Pixel or a Samsung Galaxy S8, you can check out ARCore right now with some of the early apps. They’re a gimmicky bunch, but remember that it’s just a preview and we already know Google has some killer apps coming later down the road.
Google says they plan to have ARCore on more than 100 million devices by year’s end, with Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and other partners all gearing up to include the goods on as many phones as they can.
As for Tango, the name will drift away in favor of ARCore, and any phones with the Tango-esque depth-sensing cameras released in the future will be branded “ARCore Certified,” with Google suggesting these phones will have additional capabilities in select ARCore apps. That means the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and ASUS Zenfone AR may still have some value for the hardcore AR fans out there, but you certainly won’t need those phones to get in on the fun.