AR Takes Off on Facebook

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AR Takes Off on Facebook
AR Takes Off on Facebook

“We're making the camera the first augmented reality platform,” declared Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 developer conference. That's where he showed off some of the AR effects the social media giant is making accessible to anyone on a mobile device. Whether you want to break the boredom of breakfast by setting some virtual sharks to swim around your bowl, see people's faces replaced by emojis, or turn a tabletop into the site of a video game, you'll be able to do it with just your smart phone. You can hear him and see the effect in this Cnet clip:

As Zuckerberg says, the camera here can render 2D images into 3D environments with realistic representations of depths for filling a room with water, Skittles, or bouncing balls. It can also track when an object would obscure the view of another item passing behind it, as he says about the sharks circling the cereal bowl.

AR, of course, unlike VR, is about not leaving the physical world out of the digital picture. Zuckerberg considers that a significant plus, a he told BuzzFeed News in a recent interview:

“When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that's going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer.”

Incorporating mixed realities is officially part of Facebook's 10-year plan, as confirmed by Simone Levien, Corporate Communications Manager at Facebook. Asked whether the company is gearing up for using it as a marketing tool, Levien says it is “still very early days” for that. However, given Facebook's past success in winning over brands to the use of its platform to generate customer engagement, it's a certainty that it will find a way of pitching its AR capabilities to marketers.

Facebook provides more details on the possibilities inherent in AR in Harness the Power of Augmented Reality with Camera Effects Platform. Three key features of Faebook's AR Studio are:

  • Face Tracker is a real-time computer vision algorithm that tracks the face and allows the creator to make masks that fit and respond to facial movements without writing a line of code.
  • Sensor data is used to allow developers to create effects where people can move their phone to pan around a virtual world.
  • Scripting APIs allow developers to access and download data, respond to user interactions, and modify the effect in real time.

While the first one seems to be used mostly for fun, the second and third have great potential for marketers. Sensor data can be used to deliver highly engaging video content that show off a place, which would be ideal for those marketing in the travel industry, including panoramic views of scenic destinations, tourist attractions, or hotel features. The viewers are not just limited to flat individual images but can zoom in on or turn to what they want to see more of, which would translate into more time spent look and interacting with the virtual views.

Increasing engagement is always a positive thing for marketing, but tapping into data about what a potential customer really wants is even more valuable. Scripting APIs enable that. Taking in data about what users are doing in real time powers a truly personalized, responsive experience. For example, a clothing brand could take in the data about what styles and colors drew the customer's eyes to offer the combinations that most likely will appeal to their tastes.

Early days, as Levien says, but a space to watch.

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