While Unity is already the leading 3D engine for augmented reality content in terms of volume, the announcement of Project MARS, a new augmented reality authoring tool, at Unite Berlin in June promised to expand AR development to a whole new audience of designers and other non-coders this fall.
Now, as the year winds down, Unity has released Unity 2018.3 but, unfortunately, Project MARS (short for Mixed and Augmented Reality Studio) is absent. Instead, it is now slated to debut sometime in 2019, according to a company spokesperson. Nevertheless, the newest version of Unity does bring some welcome improvements for AR developers.
The headlining AR feature for 2018.3 comes in updates to AR Foundation, Unity's cross-platform toolkit for mobile AR apps. First, AR Foundation now supports Unity's Lightweight Render Pipeline. Second, Unity has added new optimized camera image APIs, which will assist developers with building computer vision algorithms and other image-processing features. Last, but not least, Unity 2018.3 brings support for ARKit's ARWorldMap, the world-mapping feature that makes multiplayer AR and persistent content possible.
Unity 2018.3 also introduces a new set of Github repositories for performance testing of augmented reality and virtual reality apps. An automated test package enables developers to easily test their apps for common functions and performance, while acceptance tests help verify configurations and compatibility between Unity releases.
In addition, the new release offers native support for Daydream VR controllers and adds haptic APIs for Window Mixed Reality, Oculus, and Vive controllers.
Of these new features, the support for ARKit 2.0 is perhaps the most important. So far, apps taking advantage of multiplayer, persistence, and object recognition in the latest edition of Apple's AR toolkit have been few and far between. Support for ARWorldMap in AR Foundations could be the development that helps spur adoption of the ARKit 2.0 feature set.
While the delay of Project MARS extension might be a bummer, Unity certainly has not put the project on the backburner. The company devoted a session, titled "The Future of XR," to the tool during Unite Los Angeles 2018 in October 2018.
During the session, Timoni West, director of XR research at Unity, and her team gave the audience insight into their approach to development, including some wild demos of AR business cards and monitorless development environments. The presenters also shared how Project MARS handles data and simulations in Unity.
Although Project MARS has been pushed to 2019, it's hard to imagine that developers and designers will have to wait too far into the new year to get their hands on the new AR toy.