Ever since Snapchat rebuffed its acquisition attempts, Facebook has morphed Instagram with features from Snapchat, such as stories, chat, and, of course, augmented reality.
With regard to augmented reality, Snap is iterating at a fairly rapid pace. At its Snap Partner Summit last week, the company released version 4.0 of its Lens Studio AR creation platform and introduced new AR tech like Connected Lenses.
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To keep up with Snap's AR arsenal, Facebook has added two new AR capabilities for Instagram via version 114 of its own Spark AR development tool — multi-class segmentation and improved target tracking.
Multi-class segmentation (MCS) enables developers to track a person, their hair, and their skin and apply virtual textures to them. In sample effects from the Spark AR community, MCS can make a subject appear invisible while their clothes remain in view or apply pulsing neon lines that trace hair and skin separately.
"It may sound easy, like we simply mashed up three models into one, but the reality is much more complex. Reliably identifying a single segment is hard enough — for instance, making sure that a ponytail draped over a shoulder is seen as 'hair' while the tank top strap on the other side is not," said the Spark AR team in a statement. "MCS is doing that three times, and delineating where hair and skin and clothing overlap so that creators can design effects to make your skin glow like a lightbulb or turn green without having it bleed onto a hat or shirt."
While Facebook's Inclusive AI team advised the Spark AR team to ensure the ability to track diversity in appearance, there are some gaps. For instance, the camera may still confuse beards for skin.
Improvements to target tracking give Spark AR creators the ability to track up to five different stationary or moving image targets in a scene. This enables developers to place multiple AR effects in a scene that can even merge with each other. However, the Spark AR team cautions developers to consider mobile processing power.
Image tracking has emerged as a popular AR tactic for brands, so improved target tracking opens up some interesting marketing possibilities. Imagine cans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi becoming virtual warriors battling it out on your countertop, for example.
The Spark AR update gives its creator community some unique capabilities, but Snap has really raised the bar with its latest volley of updates. With the F8 developer conference just around the corner, perhaps Facebook has more tricks up its sleeve.
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