Note: There was helpful feedback on this post, and it’s been edited to reflect some new information.
Did you know that you can probably conjure a life-sized virtual animal to where you are right now with just a simple Google search?
What’s more, that’s just a glimpse of what you’ll be able to do in the not-to-distant future.
This video shows how you can use a new Google Search feature to summon a dog or a panda and place their virtual representations in a real world environment. This same trick works with a large number of other common animals as well.
This should be qualified with “sometimes.”
If you try it, and it doesn’t work, then you may not be searching from the home screen rather than Google’s Chrome (which doesn’t work), or you need to do a system update, or you may be in a country where it doesn’t work, or you may not have what Google calls an AR enabled device able to run their ARCore.
In other words, it’s a feature that’s still flaky and not as widely available as if first appeared it would be, but it’s still an interesting look-ahead to what Google plans to do with AR.
Of course, the “AR” in ARCore stands for Augmented Reality — it is a close cousin of the 360° videos that are usually featured in these posts.
While Google’s new AR animals, if/when you can see them, are good for a bit of fun (particularly with kids), the feature is not all that ground breaking in and of itself — “AR animal” apps have been around for years (e.g. AR Zoo-Animal World, ZooKazam).
Google’s “AR animals” are also close relatives of the Pokémon Go creatures that invaded back in 2016. In case you were never properly introduced to that “phenomena,” here’s a video and a story from the New York Times that will give you a sense of that craze.
Pokémon Go Brings Augmented Reality to a Mass Audience (Nick Wingfield and Mike Isaac, New York Times)
More broadly, AR apps have been used in many retail contexts over the last few years. Here’s a video from Marxent with a nice round-up of some well known examples.
On the other hand, while it can be fun to play around with AR apps from home improvement and furniture stores, they mostly have well-defined retail agendas besides entertainment. Check out these apps from Sherwin-Williams, American Furniture Warehouse, IKEA, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Build.com, Shutterstock and Macy’s.
Here’s a video from the technology-driven design and marketing agency Patio Interactive that will give you a sense of just how far retail agendas for AR can go.
Of course Google’s agendas for AR go well beyond serving up cute animals for fun.
Let’s start with this video from the Wall Street Journal about how Google is integrating AR features into Google Maps.
That video was made back in February. Since then the AR feature in Google Maps has become available to users with Pixel smartphones. Here’s an article from Business Insider published last week with an update on the rollout.
We tried Google’s new augmented reality feature for Maps that’s currently available only on its Pixel smartphones, and we don’t know what we’d do without it. (Nick Bastone, Business Insider)
The Wall Street Journal video also mentioned the potential, if not inevitable, integration of Google’s AR features into AR glasses. The Google Glass debacle aside, it is clear Google is still on that road since last week they released Glass Enterprise Edition 2. It is only a matter of time before they reintroduce AR glasses for the consumer market.
In the meantime you can get a sense of what “integration” might look like in this extensive review of North’s Focals.
Google’s larger agenda for AR was readily apparent in their announcement of “AR animals” because the announcement also mentioned that they are partnering with NASA, New Balance, Samsung, Target, Visible Body, Volvo and others to show third-party content in Google Search.
This essentially means that there’s pretty much nothing that you won’t be able to see with AR in one way or another, via Google or other apps, except maybe, err … dead people?
No, scratch that. You can already even do that with the app The Walking Dead: Our World.
Now if there are some things about all of this, besides The Walking Dead, that creep you out, maybe even make you downright queasy, then you are not alone. There are tons of privacy issues that surround the mass deployment of AR, but that’s a huge topic for another day.
However, if you’re curious about what the issues might be and want to find out more about them on your own, then here’s a site to get you started.
Privacy and Secutiry (Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University)
Here are some news stories about Google’s AR Animals launch.
First AR objects launch in Google Search with 3D animals (Abner Li, 9to5Google)
Google puts augmented reality animals in its Search app (Mariella Moon, Engadget)
Google search results now include augmented reality creatures (Adrian Willings, Pocket-lint)
If you are interested in how the AR apps work, or maybe even want to find out how to make one of your own, then check out Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit as well as popular AR platforms like Vuforia and Hoverlay.
Find out more about augmented reality …