augmented reality

the coming interactive surface revolution

With its capacity to detect a user’s movements, the Microsoft Kinect system stands ready to change how the museum and themed entertainment field might consider where an interactive experience occurs and what the interactive medium might be. As shown recently here in our blog over two months ago, water can serve as an interface location. In fact, recently this same story again surfaced across the web – for example here and here.

Certainly, the next step is developing more sophisticated augmented reality experiences based on this ability. While the water example shows some rudimentary possibilities, an application (came out last year) that certainly could have potential impacts – educationally and otherwise – is shown here. In this one sand is sand to as our medium and simulate water and water flow.


A further refined version is being worked on or is finished through the work Oliver Kreylos of UC, Davis, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (at UC, Davis), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (at UC, Berkeley) for ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vermont. Here is video of that piece.



Thinking back on past projects where we wanted to create a physical interactive six or seven years ago about watersheds and drainage, had this been around, we might have jumped on it.

But this technology, along with things such as our posting two weeks ago on motion tracking systems and cameras/projection, means that as we think about exhibitions, there is a vast opportunity to add an additional digital dimension if necessary. This applies even to some our most tried-and-true interactive examples.

Take a gravity well. When we will see the first one where, as the ball travels down the well, the acceleration figures, the projected path, or force vectors are projected on the surface of the gravity well itself?  How about projection on an erosion table? The list of possibilities is endless. Additionally, all of this digital information can be saved, taken home, shared on personal devices, and distributed through the cloud. We are just beginning to explore how this could change the ways physical interactives can link together with our lives outside of the walls of a museum.

But there are dangers, and at times we don’t want this extra layer.  It might detract from the innate beauty, simplicity, or emotional and learning impacts of the physical interactive.

The key will be figuring out when to add this ability and when to leave the physical reality of a phenomenon alone.

We here at the studio can already imagine the debates and conversations that will erupt as we move forward with these evolving abilities. Those are going to be some good conversations around the conference bar! Meanwhile until then we remain on the lookout for new examples. Do you know of any? What do you think of the coming revolution?

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Non digital but digital interface

As technologies develop, the interaction and interplay between the physical world and the digital world become more enmeshed. Certainly, this is an area of continual development and exploration in exhibition design – in particular in dealing with what has traditionally been 2D graphics. Recently there has been a proliferation of moving away from physically printed panels to providing digital touch panels that take advantage of what the digital medium can provide.

A twist that suggests a different approach, or one that offers interesting differences, is the new system generated by Fujitsu Laboratories , which is an augmented reality user interface.

How this might be used in an exhibit/exhibition medium is a fascinating thought. Rather than incorporating a light-emitting screen, one could still create physical graphics that have a hidden overlay of depth or could be sampled to a “digital scrapbook” without the need for any screen. In addition, the idea of other printed material, of physically built material, or even artifacts having direct interplay with such a system is exciting to contemplate. From a design perspective,

what is nice about this approach is the clarity and simplicity of the interface and the design, as well as the invisibility of the technology with the physical object.

Finally, it also turns around the whole augmented reality approach. Rather than the added information requiring viewing on a digital device, it instead becomes part of the very physical object one is manipulating.

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Augmented Reality – AAM 2012 review

Today one of the very first sessions at the 2012 AAM conference focused on the emerging use of augmented reality in the museum setting. This was both in inside facilities as well as outside locations including parks, historical sites and zoos.









Several observations from the presentations today:

-          When you think of AR don’t be focused only on 3D models that appear on a screen (mobile, tablet or monitor) which can be rotated in three dimensions. Rather think models, video, data and other information provided from either gps and or visual sensing location determination.

It’s the info cloud that is accessible at a certain place.

-          Today programming across multiple platform iOS and Android is problematic. The holy grail is to make it BYOD (bring your own device) so this is important. It poses the question of equal access of content to all. What if you don’t have a device? What it the content doesn’t work on your device?

-          It appears the major “nut to crack” is how to have AR not remove you from the real object or process. How does it really augment it? No one wants people just staring at more screens. A great deal of work remains to solve this issue. Not mentioned today was did people learn more or improve their experience emotionally or in other qualitative ways.

-          Something to consider is where and how the visitor acquires the app to use the AR if they are using their own device. You can’t depend on them downloading it before they arrive. It appears that having wifi is critical – not just or only cellular service.

-          Finally already the move is to match AR with game experiences.


Turkletom via Flickr

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