Got a webcam? Here’s four fun websites, each offering a special picture for you to download and print off. When you hold the picture up to your webcam you’ll discover a hidden 3D animation, one that forms in the palms of your hands and that you can interact with and explore. It’s all part of a developing technology called Augmented Reality that is quickly becoming a hot online trend and one that big name companies like General Electric and Volvo are using to grab attention to their marketing messages.
What Is Augmented Reality?
It is a developing technology, one that chases a futuristic dream where all cameras have the power to recognize the world around us and are capable of giving us information about what we see through them. Today’s cameras can tell us both the time and date that a photo was taken, with advanced features detect when a face is in front of the lens or even if someone is smiling. With GPS, they can even pinpoint where a picture was taken on Google Maps, but imagine if a camera could do more. Imagine a camera that is smart enough to recognize the C.N. Tower when you photograph it. That can call up detailed information about the C.N. Tower instantly, not just text or statistics, when the C.N. Tower was built or how tall it is, but full 3D maps and models, animations that show how the tower was built or deliver detailed layouts of its many floors. Imagine your view of the world enhanced by computers.
Augmented Reality Today
We’re not quite there yet, but today’s industry is taking baby steps towards this futuristic vision. Today we have software that can train a simple webcam to recognize basic, black-and-white pictures. Large, bold images, not dissimilar from those used in children’s flash cards, these glyphs or codes can trigger a computer to generate very detailed, three-dimensional animations that appear to exist in our own world and, thanks to the tracking capabilities of today’s webcams, can move, shift, and turn, as if they are real-world objects.
Although basic in form, many companies see the marketing potential of these baby steps. A paper brochure of a magazine ad with one of these glyphs on it could be held up to a webcam to deliver a 3D model of a product, allowing consumers to see if from all angles, or simply exist as a fun trick to convince consumers to visit their website in the first place.
To draw attention to their environmental commitments GE’s SmartGrid microsite includes a special glyph, silhouette of a solar panel for you to download and print off. When you hold the printed image up in front of your camera, you can choose to activate a virtual diorama of your choice of either a wind turbine or a solar energy installation. These are very detailed models that demonstrate the basic operations of these two utilities. Turn the paper in your hands around to see the models from all side and in the case of the solar panels, watch as they tilt and turn to always catch the moving sun. With the wind turbine, blow on your webcam’s microphone to add a wind effect and set the propellers spinning.
An ad for Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, this fun site offers a footprint for you to download and print off. Naturally, when you hold the footprint up in front of your webcam, Big Foot himself comes for a visit. Once you have him on-camera, you can use your mouse to hover your cursor over a selection of animation tiles to make him perform different emotions, actions, and attacks, all with appropriate grunts, growls, and roars. If you drag the tiles onto the timeline interface, you can create your own Big Foot movie, complete with your own text bubbles, to share with your friends.
Papervision’s Three-Eyed Monster
Before creating the sasquatch for Jack Link’s, Boffswana created this proof-of-concept character, a three-eyed monster who appears when you hold up a simple image in front of your webcam. Make sure to turn him around from all angles and see the different things he can do.
Volvo Ocean Race
For the 2008-2009 season of the Volvo Ocean Race, fans were given the chance to play with their own virtual yacht using Augmented Reality. Once you register for a free account at the race's official website, you'll be sent a promotional e-mail with both a password and a glyph with the word "Ahoy" on it to print off and hold up to your webcam to see a detailed model of one of the yacht's appear within the palm of your hand. Hold the glyph closer to your webcam for a more detailed view of the ship's surface.
Trading card manufacturer Topps has adopted the technology for this year's baseball season. In every pack of Topps Series 1 2009 Baseball or Topps Attax cards you'll find one 3D Live card that you can take to their website and hold in front of your webcam. With each 3D Live card, your webcam will react by creating an animated model, complete with stadium sounds, of the player featured on the card. Topps says that should the 3D Live cards and their augmented reality feature prove to be a hit amongst fans, they will invest the money to have software created that will allow webcams to recognize all of their cards, including all past Topps cards already in existence so that fans can go back into their collections and experience them again with new animations.