When you think of AR experiences, you typically think of something that either involves a headset or a handset. Augmented reality without either of those things has seemed impossible in the past. But if anyone is going to try to find a way to have an augmented reality experience without electronics, it's Disney.
Disney Research has created a "Magic Bench", a new, innovative augmented reality experience. When you sit on this bench, different characters can appear. Right now these characters include an elephant handing you an orb, a tiny donkey walking by, a talking frog, or a giraffe with an umbrella.
According to Principal Digital Artist at Disney Research, Moshe Mahler:
Current mixed reality experiences can be very compelling but they require a person to either wear a head mounted display or direct through a handheld device like a phone or tablet. This can be an isolating experience because you need the hardware to participate. What we're proposing instead of instrumenting a person - what can we accomplish by instrumenting the environment and creating a walk up and play experience?
What's amazing about this project is that not only is it a cool innovation in the augmented reality world because it doesn't require handset or headsets, but it also makes augmented reality more of a group experience. Even if you're looking at the same projected object on your phone as your friend's phone, it isn't the same as having an elephant stand between the two of you. With this technology, you and your friends are able to share the same space as an animated character.
It works by letting you see yourself in a projected mirror image on a large screen in front of you. The research team uses a color camera and depth sensor to create an HD 3D reconstruction of the room you're in, they are then able to populate that room with virtual characters in real time. The goal was to combine virtual space with real space. However, the color camera and depth sensor having different viewing angles makes for holes in the projection called "depth shadows". To solve this, the research team modifies the image by making the backdrop behind a user 2D and digitalized. When looked at from the right angle, the two images combine to create a realistic, seamless video.
Disney Research wanted to make sure that this experience was a new way of telling stories:
Our mantra for this project was hear a character coming, see them enter the space, and feel them sit next to you.
Specific motions and sounds that the character makes trigger actuators under the bench which react to give the person sitting the feeling that the characters are really moving and making noises next to them. For example, users can feel rain drops hitting the bench, and scoot over to hide under an umbrella with a giraffe.
The Magic bench project will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2017, the Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques conference on July 30. From there, we can hopefully count on the Magic Bench appearing in Disney parks soon enough.