Facebook is adding a new augmented reality feature called target tracking, which lets people launch AR experiences by pointing their phone at an image. Target tracking is in a closed beta for developers, but Facebook users can check out simple, animated experiences on posters from Ready Player One and A Wrinkle In Time. They can also get the experience by scanning a QR code. A toolkit for developers should be released publicly later this spring.
This is a very standard augmented reality feature, similar to the “living pictures” made by some high-tech novelty printers. But Facebook is claiming that its system will work more smoothly and consistently than other AR platforms, and that will be simple for people to turn their posters or images into fiducial markers. Animations are supposed to stay in place even if someone walks in front of the poster and to work on even low-end phones.
Facebook describes this as “persistent augmented reality,” because instead of just recognizing flat surfaces so you can put virtual objects on them, it’s permanently storing information that’s associated with a specific image. Another step might be something that can appear not just on a sign or image, but on a specific sign or image at a specific place, using GPS. But we’re not there yet with this feature.
Ultimately, Facebook’s goal is that lots of businesses and artists will use this tool to “build their brands and connect with customers” through AR. Here are a few of the things it suggests:
The movie poster (or any poster for that matter) experience can weave in all kinds of promotions, from a free popcorn to a scavenger hunt for free tickets. Restaurants and stores can create immersive and entertaining AR experiences tied to their storefronts (like fashion shows or chefs in the kitchen) to entice customers to walk in the door. And the opportunity to create games will take us on adventures way beyond what was previously imagined.
Remember all those dystopian sci-fi scenarios where virtual billboards cover every surface and holographic advertising mascots start yelling at you? Welcome to the future.