China’s most popular messaging app WeChat is quietly developing its own framework for augmented reality (AR).
Made with smartphones in mind – not HoloLens-esque headsets – it’s a big step in WeChat’s plans to bring AR into its ever-expanding world of payments, entertainment, shopping, transportation, and other services.
Here are some demos released by WeChat’s AI team this week and last week. This is its 3D rendering engine – used to create virtual warriors and characters that can pop out of objects.
The team is also working hard on tech that powers applications like this, a measuring app:
With the release of Apple’s augmented reality toolkit ARKit, it looks like better and more versatile AR experiences are coming to smartphones very soon.
Called QAR, WeChat’s AR framework will be an open platform for third-party developers. It’s not yet known when it will be released and what kind of features will be available. Tencent declined to comment.
WeChat’s artificial intelligence team is working on its own 3D rendering engine so that detailed objects, like a soldier’s boots or armor, look realistic in smartphone-based AR apps. They’re also developing their own simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, which helps calculate the position of virtual objects relative to their environment. That would enable AR interactions without the need for markers, like a QR code or a special image.
Hints of WeChat’s interest in augmented reality were leaked in April, when the company posted a video about mini programs – lightweight apps embedded in WeChat that users don’t have to download.
The promo video featured a Pokemon Go-like scene, hearkening back to WeChat creator Allen Zhang’s first public speech about mini programs: “When you look at any physical object, the object’s data or application will automatically emerge. Through [smart glasses] or some other method, you’ll be able to trigger the app and run it.”
In China, search giant Baidu has developed its own AR framework, which has been used to create AR marketing campaigns for brands like L’Oreal and Lancome. WeChat’s own efforts would speed up the process of adoption in China, potentially giving AR developers – and brands – access to the app’s 963 million active users.
Watch: These amazing AR apps are about to arrive on your iPhone
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