Museum Virtual Worlds

Bringing Real and Virtual Together

Recomposing Man Ray and Magritte (while being followed around by a giant blue ant): mobile AR at the Exploratorium’s After Dark

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Over the past month, I’ve been developing some mobile augmented reality exhibit prototypes for the Exploratorium’s After Dark: Get Surreal event, which took place on Feb 3, 2011. The interactive installations were designed to stimulate play and social interaction using the mixed reality of After Dark visitors using their mobile phones to explore the program theme–surrealism in art, science, and society.

Mobile AR overlays virtual images with the real world using smartphones including iPhones and those running the Android operating system. I used an AR software platform called Junaio to publish an Exploratorium “channel” for our event that contained four “locative” elements/sculptures made using 3D computer graphic models, photographic images, and scripting. Each of the 3D objects that people could see when they scanned a 2D marker image marking an exhibit location had either an audio composition or a video attached to it, which streamed through the browser. The markers, called LLA markers (for latitude, longitude, and altitude) are a type of 2D barcode and contain encoded geocoordinates that tell the software on the smartphone the precise location of the visitor. This type of marker is useful for specifying a location inside of a building where GPS signals are often not detected.
Magritte Me augmented reality exhibit at the ExploratoriumAn exhibit called Magritte Me allowed visitors to stage their own version of surrealist René Magritte’s “The Son of Man” with a virtual floating bowler hat and green apple in front of a real cloud and sky background. When the virtual elements were touched on the phone, visitors heard a surreal streaming audio composition by Exploratorium collaborator Wayne Grim called “dflux theme”.

Another exhibit, titled Odalips, allowed visitors to stage their own version of surrealist Man Ray’s “Observatory Time – The Lovers”, in which the figure of a woman reclines on a couch pointing up to a painting on the wall behind her that has a mysterious set of disembodied lips. The exhibit featured an audio composition by Wayne Grim called “Perch”. Odalips was setup inside of another Exploratorium exhibit, informally called the bridgelight room, which contains two bright sodium lights. When acclimated to the lights, visitors see everything in a yellow-grey tinted monochromatic palette. We use the room to let visitors explore the effects of different wavelengths of light on color perception. The virtual objects in the AR exhibit were the lips (in red), floating above a fainting couch visitors could recline on.

In an exhibit called André le GéANT, visitors played with posing themselves with a giant blue ant appearing to be crawling off of our Mezzanine level that spoke in French in the voice of André Breton (from a 1950 interview about surrealism.) Ants also feature prominently in Salvador Dalí work.

In annother exhibit, Redisintegration No 1, visitors found themselves surrounded by a large-scale virtual sculpture that paid homage to Salvador Dalí’s “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” and played a surreal video called “Psychometry.”

Introducing the Exploratorium’s After Dark audience to augmented reality through the Meta Cookie exhibit and the mobile AR exhibits seemed to be successful. Both experiences attracted many people at the event and stimulated play and interest in the AR technology. Look for more information about what we learned from experimenting with AR on mobile devices at After Dark at a session at the Museums and the Web conference this spring.

Author: Rob Rothfarb

Rob Rothfarb directs Web development at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, a museum of science, art, and human perception. He develops online exhibits, educational resources, and technical infrastructure for the museum. He’s interested in the application of interactive media technologies to the development of dynamic, networked content and media infrastructure to support exploration, communication, and learning. His background includes experience in software development, computer graphics, interaction design, and digital video. Rob’s interest in community and interactive 3D technologies led to work with several pioneering virtual world software companies and to interactive multimedia projects for museums including the National Gallery of Art and the National Constitution Center.

One Comment

  1. Local ABC TV story about the Exploratorium’s use of augmented reality at After Dark:

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