The year is 2020, and the ongoing quest for improvement has led to a blast from the past: LiDAR. Just when it felt like augmented reality hit a wall with detection and recognition of scenes and objects, LiDAR provides a breath of fresh air to advance AR to the next level. 

Today, Apple revealed the iPhone 12 Pro which packs its very own LiDAR-capable sensor. We previously discussed this feature in the iPad Pro, so seeing it in the iPhone is no surprise. For the uninitiated, the name “LiDAR” may give a clue to how it works. By using “light” the way “radar” uses radio waves, a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) sensor fires an array of lasers then measures how quickly the beams are reflected back. The result is a hyper realistic topographic map of the environment and is the very same method being used by NASA to map the surface of Mars

Why is this such a breakthrough for augmented reality? Because previous mobile AR experiences were only as good as the device’s camera allowed them to be. Limited by a single viewing angle, features like depth were easily thrown off by bad lighting and can’t always be counted on in the real world. By generating an accurate depth map with LiDAR, the iPhone 12 Pro will be able to place AR models accurately within its environment instead of relying on a shaky camera snapshot.


With a sensor that can create accurate environment maps, what’s on the table that wasn’t before? With depth on our side, developers have access to obscenely accurate measurements that play nice in any condition. Say your project needs a pinpoint accurate map of the room. Instead of detecting the room piecemeal, one wall or floor at a time, a LiDAR sensor creates a full 3D wireframe all at once, delivering both speed and accuracy. Gone are the days of digital content jittering around with the camera or hovering in space where they don’t belong. From mapping outer space to self-driving cars, LiDAR’s uses are numerous and have upped the standards in the AR game for good. 

Between ARKit and AR-friendly hardware, Apple continues to serve as a powerful enabler of augmented reality. As developers, each new conference feels like Christmas, and we look forward to utilizing LiDAR to build better projects and continue smashing expectations.