Jam3's 'Invisible Highway' flexes Google's new AR software dev kit

ARCore gives designers a new OS-level palette to explore

Late last week, Google announced ARCore, a new software development kit for running augmented reality on Android smartphones. To inspire developers’ projects, the launch included a handful of experiments that illustrate ARCore’s capabilities. Invisible Highway, created by digital agency and production company Jam3, puts an AR spin in remote control cars, and adding a dose of Canadian whimsy along the way.

"What makes this project interesting is the intersection of physical space and virtual worlds and seeing the interplay between your actions in a digital space," said Michael Dobell, Jam3’s head of production. "Invisible Highway is very much about shared play."

Inspired by Jam3’s home base of Toronto, Invisible Highway allows users to create a misty mountainside AR road for a modified Adafruit DIY car kit to traverse on flat ground. Users draw a path on their smartphone, the program builds it into an AR scene, and the car receives its rolling orders via Bluetooth. While the user controls the outcome, there are also unexpected moments intended to inspire delight. "A little bit of Canadiana is always nice in the world—hence the moose crossing," said Dobell.

AR has been part of Jam3’s arsenal for 5 years, during which time they’ve created software like Spotify’s Play A Coke app. But the space has long included frustrating caveats, which Dobell says ARCore makes progress in addressing. "The blocker was always the need for either—back in the Flash days—a special plugin, or later, an app for a specific experience. ARCore, and Apple’s ARKit, brings this down to an OS level, which makes it exciting for content creators like us." 

ARCore builds on Google’s near-decade-long track record of AR development releases and specifically expands on their Tango-powered mobile AR framework. The key difference is that ARCore does not require any additional hardware, so it can run on all future Android devices, although currently, only the Samsung S8 can support ARCore’s full capabilities.

While Google intends to expand ARCore to websites and other desktop functions, right now the toolkit is focused on creating fun, engaging implementations that demonstrate AR’s potential for enhancing the everyday and encouraging connection between users. And that is what Jam3 found most appealing. 

"VR is very personal, very intimate, and also a little lonely, but AR has the possibility for shared storytelling, learning and play," Dobell said. "AR is going to run the gamut, and we’re excited about the whole gradient, but the narrative space is so rich and so unexplored."

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