Changing The Way You See With Augmented Reality

When looking ahead at what will be the most exciting technology for the arts in the coming year, augmented reality is bound to pop up in the conversation. You may be familiar with augmented reality already. The National Football League has taken advantage of this technology for years to project lines of scrimmage and game time information onto the field in real-time during television broadcasts. So what exactly is augmented reality (AR)? According to Wikipedia:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics.

AR layers digital elements on top of our view of the everyday world. This overlay can be done in a number of ways: through the use of handheld devices like smartphones, through desktop computers with a webcam, by wearing specialized headsets, or by projecting a digital images/animations onto a real world location.

Since AR has the possibility to create such a unique visual experience, it naturally has attracted adopters from the creative community. Here are just a few cool projects taking advantage of AR:

DIY Day MoMA – Augmented Reality Art Invasion! On October 9th, 2010, Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek decided they would circumvent the traditional art world and host their own exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art using AR. The artists took advantage of the augmented reality viewer app Layar, currently available only on iPhone and Android devices, to create a virtual exhibition of digital works. By downloading the Layar app and loading the “AR Exhibition” layer, anyone with a camera-enabled smartphone or mobile device can view numerous digital artworks throughout MoMA. This includes both 2-D and 3-D images and animations and an additional 7th floor that only exists in the world of AR. The digital artworks have continued to be on display since DIY Day wrapped up in October.

A user view of the VPAP AR layer on both an iPhone and an Android. Image courtesy of VPAP.

The Virtual Public Art Project Also utilizing the Layar app, the Virtual Public Art Project (VPAP) takes the idea of AR artworks one step further by placing pieces around the globe. The artworks can be viewed in the round and from multiple perspectives, just as you would be able to with a real piece of public art. Check out some of the current works on display on VPAP’s website . If you’re interested in creating your own piece of AR artwork for the public, VPAP puts out multiple calls for submissions.               

The Macula Project – Mapping 600 years of history The Macula Project is comprised of a group of artists exploring the relationship between image, sound and the viewer. The city of Prague was searching for a way to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the astrological clock tower situated in the center of the city and turned to the Macula Project for a creative solution. The artists at the Macula Project turned to AR for the project and projected this stunning work that took the audience through the 600-year history of the clock tower.  Macula was able to achieve this by digitally mapping the building beforehand and tailoring their animation so when it ran through a digital projector, the perspective lined up perfectly with the real life clock tower.               

The Getty Museum – Exploring the Augsburg Display Cabinet in 3-D If there is one frustrating roadblock shared across the gamut of art lovers, it’s the frustration over not being able to personally handle and explore a piece of art in a museum. The Getty Museum understood this burning desire and took advantage of AR technology to let their visitors have a more in-depth exploration of one of the pieces from their decorative arts collection. Using an online program launched within a web browser, a computer’s built-in webcam, and a printed out “AR tag”, an art lover can handle a 3-D model of a 17th century collector’s cabinet. By rotating and tilting the AR tag, the cabinet will spin 360 degrees and various doors can be opened and explored.                A student examines a box in the exhibition that is covered in AR tags. Image courtesy of the University of Groningen.

The University of Gronigen – Giving students X-ray vision Part of a permanent exhibit in their Hall of the Bernouilliborg, the University of Gronigen teamed up with Science LinX and Nanopodium to create a unique science experience for their students. The exhibit is comprised of multiple boxes covered with AR tags. By wearing a special set of glasses containing display screens and a camera, the boxes’ walls suddenly disappear for the user. The user can then tilt and turn the now ‘hollow’ box that contains various types of 3-D science-related models, such as a model of a chain of molecules.

The types of projects that are now possible with augmented reality are rapidly growing and the technology is some pretty exciting stuff to play with. But beyond the wow factor that comes with AR, what are some of the ways that arts organizations can use this technology in worthwhile and innovative ways? Can AR extend to projects beyond the visual arts? Are there ways that this technology can be used to engage with large audiences as well as the individual? I don’t think it is too far a stretch of the imagination to envision actors on stage reacting to digital props or musicians playing digitally created instruments. As with any new tech, it will be exciting to see how AR develops and continues to merge our reality with a digital one.