How to Track Objects in AR with ARKit 3

How to Track Objects in AR with ARKit 3


Are you ready for another dive into the ARverse? After some hard-hitting Googling, I found newfound tools that will greatly increase your prowess in building an augmented reality application for iOS devices using Unity’s AR Foundation. With the release of ARKit 3, we have even better ways to build our groundbreaking games. In this tutorial, I’ll go over those foundation tools for Object Tracking. Let’s get our thrusters going so we can blast off deeper into the ARverse and learn new skills.

The complete Unity project for this tutorial is available here. All images and models used in this tutorial have been created by me.

This tutorial was implemented in:

  • Xcode 10.1
  • Unity 2019.3.0a6 Personal

Tutorial Outline

  1. Setup Unity Project
  2. Install AR Foundation & ARKit Package
  3. AR Game Configuration
  4. Object Tracking

*Building to Android with ARCore is outside the scope of this tutorial, we encourage you to research how to do so if you would like to.

Setup Unity Project

The Unity AR Foundation and ARKit XR packages are used to develop a more efficient AR ecosystem for cross-platform builds.

To get started open Unity and click New to create a new project. Let’s title it ARObjectTracking. Select where you would like to save your project and in the Template dropdown select 3D.

With your project open navigate to Build Settings from the main menu, File > Build Settings. In the dialogue box that appears select iOS from the list of platforms on the left and select Switch Platform at the bottom of the window. Switching Platforms sets the build target of our current project to iOS. This means that when we build our project in Unity that process will create an Xcode project.

Next, you’ll need to enter the bundle identifier for our game. A bundle identifier is a string that identifies an app. It’s written in the reverse-DNS style, following the format com.yourCompanyName.yourGameName. Allowed characters are alphanumeric characters, periods and hyphens. You’ll need to change the bundle identifier from the default setting in order to build to your desired platform.

It is important to note, once you have registered a bundle identifier to a Personal Team in Xcode the same bundle identifier cannot be registered to another Apple Developer Program team in the future. This means that while you are testing your game using a free Apple ID and a Personal Team, you should choose a bundle identifier that is for testing only – you won’t be able to use the same bundle identifier to release the game. The way some developers choose to do this is to add “Test” to the end of whatever bundle identifier they were going to use – for example, com.yourCompanyName.yourGameNameTest.

With that said, to change the bundle identifier, open the Player Settings field in the Inspector panel by going to Edit in the main menu, Edit > Project Settings > Player. Expand the section at the bottom called Other Settings and enter your bundle identifier in the Bundle Identifier field.

You’ll also need to turn on the Requires ARKit support checkbox. Note that when you do this Unity fills in the Camera Usage Description field with the message “Required for augmented reality support.” This can be any value you want, but it just cannot be blank. You’ll also notice that it gives you a warning that iOS 11.0 or newer is required for ARKit support. So, you’ll need to increase the iOS number in the Target minimum iOS Version field.

The final change you’ll have to make is to the architecture. ARKit only works with ARM64 processors so you’ll need to select that from the Architecture drop-down menu.

Install AR Foundation & ARKit Package

Once you have completely setup up your project for an iOS game, you will need to install the AR Foundation and ARKit packages. To do so, you’ll need to open Unity’s Package Manager by clicking Window > Package Manager. In the dialog box that appears the AR Foundation and ARKit package is not readily available. To see all packages available for install click the Advance button this will open a drop-down menu that allows you to show preview packages. Preview packages are not verified to work with Unity and might be unstable. They are not supported in production environments. 

Select the AR Foundation package from the list of packages. The package information appears in the details pane. In the top right-hand corner of the information pane select the version to install, in our case, we will be installing version 1.0 preview 27. Then click the Install button. You will do the same for the ARKit Plugin.

ARFoundation 2.2 provides interfaces for ARKit 3 features, but only Unity’s ARKit XR Plugin 2.2 package contains support for these features and requires Xcode 11 beta and iOS 13 beta. Unity’s ARKit XR Plugin 2.2 is not backward compatible with previous versions of Xcode or iOS. Unity’s ARKit XR Plugin 2.1 will work with the latest ARFoundation (it just doesn’t implement the ARKit 3 features).

While Xcode 11 & iOS 13 are in beta, we will continue to maintain both the 2.2 and 2.1 versions of the packages. The same is also true for Unity’s ARKit Face Tracking package 1.1: it requires Xcode 11 beta and iOS 13 beta. This distinction is temporary. Once iOS 13 is no longer in beta, the ARKit package is expected to work with all versions of Xcode 9+ and iOS 11+.

AR Game Configuration

Now if you right-click in your Scene Hierarchy you will notice a new section called XR in the menu that appears. From said menu add an AR Session, controls the lifecycle of an AR experience, enabling or disabling AR on the target platform. The AR Session can be on any Game Object.

Next, you’ll add an AR Session Origin object by right-clicking Scene Hierarchy and navigating to the XR > AR Session Origin. The AR Session Origin object transforms trackable features (such as planar surfaces and feature points) into their final position, orientation, and scale in the Unity scene. Because AR devices provide their data in “session space”, an unscaled space relative to the beginning of the AR session, the AR Session Origin performs the appropriate transformation into Unity space. Notice that the AR Session Origin object has it’s own AR Camera. So, you no longer need the Main Camera that was included when you create your project. To remove it, right-click on it and Delete.

Go ahead and select the AR Camera from the AR Session Origin drop-down contents and in the Inspector pane tag it as the Main Camera.

Object Tracking

Object Tracking work similarly to Image Tracking in that it uses a subsystem to detect a 3D object in the user’s environment that has previously been stored in a library of reference objects. To use the object tracking function in Unity you’ll need to record spatial features of real-world objects using Apple’s sample code found here to then be input in the Object Reference Library. You’ll need to build and run the application on your iOS device.

Once you run the application you will be promoted to point it at a near my object to scan. Then you’ll need to tap the screen to place a bounding box around the object. You can rotate, scale or move the box with two fingers in a pinching motion. Long press sides fo the box to push/pull them in or out. You can touch the box to move it on an axis. When you are satisfied with the box’s position, tap the Scan button to being scanning. Next, you’ll need to scan the object from all sides that you are interested in. When satisfied, stop scanning. The Test option just re-scans the object to see if it is detectable.

This application will create a file with the file type distinction “.arobject.” When saving the file you can choose to save the said file to your iCloud drive or send it to your Mac using AirDrop. With your new file in hand, navigate back to Unity to drag and drop the arobject file into your Assets folder. Next, we’ll need to create a Reference Object Library by clicking Assets > Create > XR > Reference Object Library. In your projects Assets folder, a new Reference Object Library object has been created. Click on the said object,  in the Inspector Panel add the reference arobject file into the Reference Object Assets field and give it a name.

With the reference library created, will need to add the AR Tracked Object Manager script to our AR Session Origin. This script is a manager that uses the reference library to recognize and track the 3D objects in the physical environment. To add the script to the AR Session Origin simply select the AR Session Origin game object from the Scene Hierarchy, in the Inspector Panel click Add Component and search AR Tracked Object Manager.

Once the library has been added you’ll see that there are two variables that need to be populated, Reference Library and Tracked Object Prefab. The Reference Library is the XRReferenceObjectLibrary to be used during object detection (the one we just created). The Tracked Object Prefab is the assigned AR object. If not null,  it is instantiated for each detected object.

Drag and drop the Reference Library you just created into the designated variable field. For the Tracked Object Prefab drag and drop the desired 3D object you wish to appear when your device is able to track the 3D object.

Next, you will need to add the AR Input Manager script to the AR Session. This script manages the lifetime of the Input Subsystem. We can add this script to any GameObject in the scene to make the device pose information available. To read the said input use the Tracked Pose Driver. To add this script to the AR Session simply select AR Session from the Scene Hierarchy, in the Inspector Panel, click Add component and search for AR Input Manager.

Boom Bam! Thank you, Ma’am! It’s done. Now if you build and run your program on your iOS device, you will find that when the camera of your device tracks your 3D object and the designated AR object appears above it. If you were to move the object within the physical space your device’s camera tracks it as it moves.

Currently, when you remove the 3D object from the view of the camera on your iOS device the AR object that appears when your object was detected does not go away. To implement this logic check out my Master Image Tracking with ARKit 3 – Part 2 tutorial. There I show you how to implement Vuforia’s image target logic for when the image is removed from the view of the camera.


In this tutorial we learned:

  • Initialize Unity project for Augmented Reality builds
  • Install AR Foundation and ARKit XR packages
  • Fundamental scene setup for Augmented Reality games in Unity
  • Using the Object Reference Library for object tracking

And there you have it: a simple object tracking program that you can play around with and add to your portfolio. You can even take this project one step further by adding text above or below the object to define what it is.

Regardless, we’ve taken another step as AR pioneers and managed to create something amazing.  However, there’s always more of the ARverse to explore in the future!

“Just remember there is only one corner of the ARverse you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own code.” – Morgan H. McKie