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SpaceX is even landing rockets in augmented reality

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An ARKit demo brings the Falcon 9 to the backyard

Developer Tomás Garcia has a few of the more notable augmented reality demos since ARKit, Apple’s augmented reality tool, was released earlier this month. But his newest one is the most impressive yet. Standing in the backyard of his office, Garcia trains his iPhone 7’s screen at the sky, where a digital version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket booster comes barreling toward the ground. He follows the booster until it gently settles onto a facsimile of one of the company’s autonomous drone ships in the pool at his feet. It all looks as smooth and simple a process as SpaceX has made it seem in the real world lately.

Like most other ARKit demos we’ve seen so far, this one is brief, and it’s not trying to solve a problem (like this digital measuring tape, for example). But it further illustrates how Apple’s first attempt at augmented reality could be the kind of dazzling feature that the last few iPhones have been missing. And it’s another piece of evidence that ARKit is going to be pretty accurate even without the help of depth sensors. (Though there are rumors that those might be coming to the next iPhone.)

More importantly, seeing demos like these pop up just weeks after ARKit was released is a sign that the platform Apple has built is easier and more accessible to developers than what’s available from the competition. Garcia says he’d never even worked with augmented reality before ARKit, but he’s already working with a team to be ready for when iOS 11 opens up this new segment in the app market.

Knowingly or not, Garcia joins a sizable group of tinkerers who’ve been re-creating Falcon 9 landings in all sorts of mixed media. It’s become a common challenge to re-create the feat inside adorable spaceflight sim Kerbal Space Program. A hobbyist once performed a Falcon 9 landing in his pool with a drone. And the MIT Media Lab once built an extremely frustrating game about the rocket’s landings.

Garcia’s still missing one thing in his version, though: explosions.