TikTok rolls out its first lidar-powered AR effect

Snapchat was among the first apps to leverage the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR Scanner for AR, but now TikTok has followed suit. The social video app confirmed today it has launched its first-ever lidar-powered effect to help its users ring in the new year. The effect features an AR ball, similar to the one that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. After a countdown, the ball drops and explodes to fill the room with confetti, as well as a floating “2021” in the air.

Support for LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, was introduced on the new flagship 5G iPhone models, the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, in the fall. The technology helps the iPhone better understand the world around you, by measuring how long it takes for light to reach an object in the space and reflect back.

Along with improvements to the iPhone’s machine learning capabilities and dev frameworks, this allows for more immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences.

Snapchat, an early adopter of the technology, had first used the new LiDAR Scanner to create a Lens in its app where flowers and grasses would grow in the room around you. The Lens included virtual vegetation that even climbed up the walls and around the cabinets in the room, for example.

Similarly, TikTok’s effect aims to use LiDAR’s understanding of the room to land the confetti more realistically after the ball explodes.

In the example video the company published on Twitter, it showed the confetti covering the floor, sofa and throw pillows, much as it would in real life. This effect wasn’t perfect by any means — it was still very clear this was an AR experience and not real confetti — but it was an improvement over AR effects that lack the same spatial awareness.

TikTok described the effect as being able to visually bridge the digital and physical worlds, thanks to how the AR effects interact with the user’s environment. It’s available globally, with the exception of a few select countries.

Of course, fun AR effects are only one of many use cases for something like lidar. The technology is also being adopted by apps that let you scan to create 3D models, like 3D Scanner App, or those that help with interior design, like RoomScan LiDAR, or even games, like the Apple Arcade title, Hot Lava.

TikTok says it plans to roll out “more innovative effects” over the course of 2021.