Android augmented reality is about to take some nice steps forward today, as Google is adding a major new feature to its ARCore toolkit for developers: a Depth API capable of creating depth maps with a single device camera. Rather than requiring differential data gathered from two cameras or a dedicated time of flight sensor, the new Depth API will automatically snap multiple images as you move a single camera around and then compare the images to estimate your distance from each pixel.

Alone, that feature would be impressive, but Google’s intended use of the API is even better: occlusion, a trick by which digital objects can appear to be overlapped by real-world objects, blending the augmented and real worlds more seamlessly than with mere AR overlays. Starting today, occlusion is available in Scene Viewer — a Google developer tool for AR in Search — to over 200 million Android devices with ARCore.

Above: A digital cat is added to a real-world scene with occlusion off (left) and on (right).

Image Credit: Google

There are myriad potential applications of proper depth-mapping and occlusion in AR, and Google is already suggesting how some of them will work, including an updated Houzz app that better places digital sample furniture models in real-world spaces and demos that can sense real surfaces and objects to enable digital objects to interact with and bounce off of them.

While the Depth API is supporting single-camera devices without conventional depth sensors, it’s also anticipating that time-of-flight sensors will enable even faster, dynamic occlusion that will be able to hide parts of digital objects behind real moving objects. The last three generations of iPhones have included front-facing depth sensors, certain recent Samsung and LG devices have started to add time-of-flight rear cameras, and other companies are expected to follow their lead in 2020.

Developers interested in getting access to the new Depth API will need to respond to Google’s call for collaborators, as the software apparently isn’t being made generally available to everyone quite yet. Users can see the new features in action in the latest release of the Houzz app for Android, available in the Play Store.

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