Google to add augmented reality to search

Google is adding 3D augmented reality models to its search results — so you can check out a pair of shoes in the ‘real world’ while you are shopping online or put an animated shark in your living room.

Last week, at its I/O Conference, Google demonstrated a few different examples of how its AR search options might work. If you search for musculature, for instance, you can get a model of human muscles — which you can either examine as an ordinary 3D object on your screen or overlay on a camera feed, letting you ‘see’ the object in the real world. If you are looking at shopping results, you can preview a piece of clothing with your existing wardrobe.

The 3D AR objects are expected to start showing up in search results later this year, and developers can add support for their own objects by adding “just a few lines of code,” according to Google. The search giant is reportedly already working with NASA, New Balance, Samsung, Target, Volvo, and other groups to add support for their 3D models.

Google has been offering augmented reality tools for a couple of years now. It unveiled its Android ARCore platform in 2017, and it has launched tools like the whimsical Playground system, which lets people place augmented reality stickers called Playmoji — including characters from The Avengers and Detective Pikachu — into their camera feed. Google also recently began testing turn-by-turn augmented reality directions for Google Maps, a feature it announced at last year’s I/O conference. And apps like Wayfair have let people use augmented reality to preview furniture.

This is all part of a larger arms race toward sophisticated phone-based augmented reality. Search AR seems like something that will be more fun than useful in many cases — but options like AR shopping could turn out to be genuinely helpful, and developers could end up finding new and surprising uses as the tech rolls out.