Imagine bringing an interactive storybook to life inside your child's bedroom. Aiming your phone's camera at the bed, you'll see a three-dimensional forest spring up from Little Joey's favorite blanket. When you move closer, you'll notice tiny critters living inside the virtual trees. This is the kind of technology Apple has been working on.
Last month, Apple introduced the world to ARKit. This software, using your phone's built-in camera and motion sensors, allows you to create augmented reality (AR) apps. In other words, you can place virtual objects in the physical world. All you need is an iOS device and knowledge of Unreal or Unity engine. It's like Pokémon Go, but better.
From a graceful robot that whirls around your dining room table to a virtual tape measure that calculates basic distance, it seems like this platform is going to push the envelope. According to Apple's keynote address, which you can watch below, the software can measure distances, identify surfaces, and accurately scale digital objects. The AR segment is one hour and twenty-five minutes into the video.
I suspect most of the ARKit apps will be frivolous at first, like placing a computer-generated tea cup atop your pooch's fluffy head. Once the novelty rubs off, you'll probably see a deluge of apps that'll impact people's lives in a more meaningful way. I hope this platform lives up to the hype, as it has amazing potential and I'm something of an AR enthusiast, but this technology is still pretty new.
ARKit will drop this fall along with the latest operating system (iOS 11). Even though it's not available until the fall, Apple granted early access to a handful of developers, so we're starting to see some demos pop up on social media. After browsing the Made from ARKit web page, which posts these demos, I compiled a list of personal favorites.
1. Erect a Minecraftian structure in your backyard
Who doesn't love a game about placing blocks and going on adventures? I love Minecraft as much as the next ten-year-old, but I'd rather not round a corner and come face-to-face with a virtual Creeper. Those things scare the bejeezus out of me.
2. Witness the lunar landing from the comfort of your living room
This demo is equally cool as it is hilarious. I mean, the faux moon dwarfs the real-life terrier. If that's not comedic gold, I don't know what is. Pooches aside, if you move closer to the moon, you'll see a pair of puny astronauts as well as a miniscule spaceship.
3. Measure the length of a golf club with this virtual tape measure
This demo is one of the more practical ones I've seen so far. Whether you're figuring out the size of a picture frame or a ginormous bureau, this virtual tape measure is an excellent tool to have.
4. This dancing robot will pirouette its way into your nightmares
This robotic ballerina is mesmerizing. I love her fluid movements and mushroom-like head. Other than to delight someone, I'm not sure what the point of this demo is. I suspect it might scare the hell out of children.
5. Hang out with these realistic-looking bros
This demo uses volumetric capture technology, which lets you walk around these three-dimensional basketball players and view them from any angle. When digital content fuses seamlessly with reality, that's when you know you're really pushing the boundaries of AR.