Augmented Reality

Udacity & Unity Collaborate on New ARKit Course

Barely a week after Apple unveiled its new augmented reality (AR) development framework, dubbed ARKit, for-profit online educational services provider Udacity has announced a new program for developers who want to learn how to use the framework to build AR apps for iPhone and iPad.

ARKit, which is included with the iOS 11 Software Development Kit, integrates iOS device cameras and motion features, allowing developers to build AR experiences into their applications and games.

Udacity teamed with Unity Technologies to develop Learn ARKit. Unity's namesake development platform is used by developers to build 2D, 3D, virtual reality (VR) and AR experiences into their games and applications. The month-long Udacity program teaches students how to use ARKit with either Unity or Apple's Swift programming language.

Why is Udacity providing a special course that teaches how to use a proprietary framework to build apps for one platform? Christian Plagemann, VP of learning at Udacity, argues that, because ARKit is aimed at 400 million iOS devices, it's now the largest immersive technology platform in the world.

"Both AR and VR are massively important areas of future tech development," Plagemann told Campus Technology. "And that's Udacity's focus. We want to educate people in what really matters in the job market today and tomorrow. And VR/AR is definitely one of these areas."

This isn't the first time Udacity and Unity have collaborated. The two companies worked together to develop Udacity's VR Developer Nanodegree program. VR and AR have emerged as "key areas of investment" for the company, Plagemann said, along with machine learning, deep learning, self-driving cars and robotics.

"Unity has been an amazing partner for us," Plagemann said. "They're one of the most important and widely used platforms in game, mobile and VR development."

Plagemann's team is "very deep" into the AR/VR ecosystem, he said, which is one of the reasons Udacity was able to launch the Learn ARKit program so quickly. Plagemann was one of the co-founders of the Virtual Reality team at Google, and was responsible for, among other things, the development of Google Cardboard and the Daydream VR platform. And before joining Google, he worked on the autonomous car at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University.

Augmented reality, which integrates digital information (usually) on a mobile device with the real world in real time, found its way into the popular lexicon in a big way with the launch of Pokémon Go in the summer of 2016. Demand for AR/VR developer skills has on the rise ever since, according to Jessica Lindl, global head of education at Unity Technologies.

"Augmented and virtual reality are the future," Lindl said in a statement, "so much so that the most influential companies in technology are betting big on their potential. It's a great time for seasoned developers and newbies alike to sharpen their skills. We're proud to work with Udacity to help equip developers today with the skills to create the apps of tomorrow."

The single-term Learn ARKit program is priced at $199 and aims to deliver a course of training that covers the essential skills needed to build AR apps using Apple's development framework, including:

  • How to develop an understanding of visual inertial odometry, and discover the underlying computer vision mechanisms that enable ARKit;
  • How to build a variety of ARKit applications that allow virtual objects to be placed on the ground, on tables or on other horizontal flat surfaces;
  • How to add dynamic lighting effects that change the color, direction, temperature and intensity of ambient lighting;
  • How to add basic shadow effects to the scene; and
  • How to "sell" the illusion of a synthetic object set in a real-life scene, in real time.

For more information, visit the Udacity site.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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