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AWE 2014: Tracking Arts Culture and Augmented Reality

Tapestry with QR tags using Aurasma by Patrick Lichty
Tapestry with QR tags using Aurasma by Patrick Lichty
photo by Patrick Lichty

If you find it a worthwhile experience to be given an audio tour when you visit a museum, then you will be surprised and delighted by developments in Augmented Reality (AR). More and more AR is being used to describe and enhance the cultural experience.

After being invited to attend the Augmented World Exposition (AWE) in Santa Clara, here is what I can report:

AR falls loosely into two categories: “Wearable” and the Internet of Things. Briefly, it is a set of new technical advancements which allow 3D animation, audio, and information to be added (with location-based coordinates) to other media such as websites and apps or directly to human experiences via something like a headmounted display or other wearable device. Some AR can be seen via scanning with apps such as Aurasma and Layar from a smart phone. It is, thus, technology for the wireless age and the age of micro-transmission, when Things can talk to Things, to produce information about Things.

A few projects featured were made by artists and scientists working with how AR might be used for exhibitions, or with maps and a/v, or to read data sets, and as part of installations or buildings. This has implications, of course, for various cultural disciplines.

AWE is a three-day, one-of-a-kind event with over “2000 CEOs, CTOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors, and high-level press” and there is much to do, hear, see and experience. Where AR meets Arts Culture, however, is where huge potentials for intellectual disciplines emerge. Playdisplay is a Russian developer “speсializing in creating cutting-edge advertising AR campaigns offering the latest and unconventional examples of practical use of augmented reality, gesture recognition systems and user activity tracking system.” This year their brochure featured “Museums, Presentations, Entertainment, Education” with space AR focusing upon highly-interactive designs for airport infrastructure engineering, 3D data, and kid-friendly education in color. Playdisplay has invented SpaceAR for transforming interiors and exteriors into augmented evironments where virtual objects “obey the laws of physics and interact with their audience in a real way, reacting to their gestures, touch, words and even, emotions.” Patrick Lichty is a new media artist and published author on new media, who had installed an artwork, Into the Wild/AR Tapestry, in which old-world technologies of thread weaving, done digitally, is blended with artist’s made QR tags, into an installation, accessed via the tags through the “frame” of Aurasma via a smart phone. Mark Skwarek is a new media artist who has developed AR art for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; ISEA; the CyberArts Festival; the Sunshine International Art Museum, Beijing; and the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois. He teaches at NYU and co-authored an AR intervention with locative media pioneer Jeremy Hight called creatAR which allows users to challenge each other with AR objects. Both Hight and Skwarek have been dedicated working to make new media technologies more widely understood and utilized. Of course AWE 2014 was heavily involved this year in discussion of “the Glass”, but many companies advertising headware were represented. The Auggie Awards are for the best products of 2014.

AR is still a cutting-edge, yet, rather rarified end of the new tech spectrum, hence the moral panics over wearables and the level of excitement around the Internet of Things. With the help of AWE this may be changing, and fast.

I look forward to more and more next year and beyond!

Thank you, Ethan Rasiel, Lightspeed PR, for his assistance with AWE 2014.