Facebook launches AR effects tied to real-world tracking markers

Facebook’s augmented reality camera is evolving beyond selfie masks and randomly placed 3D objects to using location markers in the real world that trigger AR experiences in a precise location. Spotted today, Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing the feature in closed beta with promotions for the upcoming Ready Player One and Wrinkle In Time films. And in April, it plans to add tracker-based AR to its AR Studio tool open to all developers.

[Update 4/5/18: Facebook has now officially begun letting developers build tracker-based AR experiences.]

The Facebook Camera feature’s new Ready Player One effect takes one of the movie’s posters and overlays a window in the virtual Oasis world. If you can’t find one of the actual posters, you can just use an image of a poster on your computer. Here’s a demo of what the experience looks like:

The Wrinkle In Time movie similarly uses a movie post to trigger the AR effect, as seen here:

“In the future, we believe AR will be in the world all around us. Rather than the ephemeral ‘capture and share’ sessions we see today, AR will sit in a hidden data layer that you access through your devices – phones today, glasses tomorrow” Facebook Camera product manager Matthew Simari tells me.

“This experience, as simple as it is, is our first instantiation of that. Your phone is the magnifying glass that is allowing you to peer past your reality into a hidden experience locked (key word) to a place or object in the world around you. It’s the transition from experiences being ephemeral to them being persistent. It is made more powerful by the fact that the AR now has immediate context because it is directly relevant to place or target where you are” he says.
TechCrunch reader Paul Gailey spotted AR developer Everywoah tweeting about Facebook’s plans to release new AR features at SXSW this weekend where the posters for Ready Player One are scattered. Facebook first launched its Camera Effects platform and AR Studio just less than a year ago at F8, but hasn’t made a ton of progress since, other than opening AR Studio to all developers in December.

Using AR markers could let Facebook offer a much wider range of AR content that actually knows where it is in the real world. That could prevent awkward, glitchy moments when Facebook’s standard markerless AR misinterprets the shape of the spaces and surfaces around you. Snapchat doesn’t appear to have used markers in its AR lenses before.

If Facebook opens the marker-based AR to its AR Studio tool, outside developers could start creating experiences tethered to physical spaces. Once upon a time, Facebook colonized the real world with Like button stickers on businesses. Next, it could let places set up AR experiences for their visitors tied to a similar sticker. And unlike markerless AR, where users have to spontaneously think to use Facebook’s Camera, the markers can act as promotional reminders that there’s invisible content waiting to be unlocked.