Placing Ourselves in the Future
Take yourself back to the year 2000, the beginning of the new millennium. Could you imagine then that by 2020 our phones would turn into mini hand-held computers used for virtually any and every task, and we’d carry it around with us no matter where we go? If we were to imagine how in the next 20 years our daily lives will change in the context of emerging technology, what do you imagine will exist in that reality? Our team imagined that Mixed Reality will be an influential and an accessible aspect of people’s everyday lives. Our prediction is that it will be as common in the future as opening up an app on our phone is today. Likely, Mixed Reality will be a common feature across many mediums and contexts, not just within the context of sophisticated gaming situations. Perhaps it will exist on the clothes we choose to buy and wear daily.
Exploring Augmented Reality in Clothing
We decided to use clothing as our medium for exploring Mixed Reality because we were just curious about the interactions that would unfold by incorporating a digital dimension to a common-place physical artifact. What would it be like for the person wearing an AR shirt? How would they interact or engage with their clothing differently? Would they be really engaged, distracted or just forget that it’s even there? How would their relationship to their physical environment change? What about the interaction between that person and an observer in the situation? In addition to wanting answers to these questions, we were also just excited by the prospect of crafting an augmented experience that did not entail a person having to put on a headset.
Our First Prototype
For the first prototype we decided to design an augmented cityscape on a t-shirt. We chose this thinking about the personal statements people make when they wear shirts with images of specific cities; it says a lot about their style and taste. Using AR to show depth and interaction within that cityscape felt like it would provide a rich and immersive experience. Perhaps as you zoom in to the city, you could see micro-animations like taxis driving across city streets, pedestrians walking or clouds floating by in the sky.
So how do we go about achieving this effect? Well these are the tools we used:
- Unity : a game development platform. We used this to create our augmented reality scenes.
- Vuforia : an augmented reality SDK for mobile devices that uses Computer Vision technology to recognize and track planar images (Image Targets) in real-time. We used this to be able to use our phones to be able to see the AR on the shirts.
- Cinema 4D : a 3D modeling, animation, motion graphic and rendering software. We used this to create our animations that would be rendered for the AR objects on the shirts.
In addition to creating our own objects and crafting its animations, we created custom fiducial images and fed that into Unity to create the augmented scene.
During our user testing session we tried out two things:
- T-shirt with a large version of the fiducial image in the center of the shirt
- T-shirt with a smaller version of the fiducial image on the sleeve
With the large version of the fiducial image on the front of the shirt:
The most immediate feedback we received was people feeling overwhelmed by the city, and not quite understanding the purpose of it. In this scenario, the person wearing the shirt was not able to directly interact with the augmented experience that existed on their shirt — the experience was only reserved for an observer with an iPad or an iPhone, while they stood there in front of the observer, passively watching reactions.
With the smaller version of the fiducial image on the shirt sleeve:
The interaction with the shirt changed completely when the augmented experience existed on a smaller fiducial image and on the person’s arm. They could use their other hand to hold the iPhone and see the augmented scene. The response to the city was still similar — in that it felt too complex to ‘carry’ on a wrist. The view and orientation of the city also solicited some mixed feelings. However, the biggest difference we noticed was the pivot in emotion now that the wearer could engage with what’s on the shirt. They were moving around, investigating, and trying to figure out what’s happening in the city.
It was interesting to observe that an experience felt “bulky” even though it’s completely digital. There’s nothing on that shirt. That told us not only a lot about how we might need to shift directions and think about redesigning the augmented image, but it also told us a lot about what to take into consideration when designing for this medium in general. People have visceral reactions to how “heavy” or “light” an augmented experience feels because they are engaging with the content with their body.
We changed the size, complexity and placement of the fiducial image. We drastically simplified what would appear on the fiducial image tracker. Instead of a complex cityscape, we simplified to single objects. The augmented object would be on the person’s shirt sleeve and they’d be able to experience the AR within the context of their physical surroundings.
Loads of Trial and Error
Getting to the final version of the product was an immense and iterative process of trial and error. We tried many different sizes of the fiducial images, and talked extensively about which objects we wanted to be part of the experience. We went back to the 3D modeling “drawing board” to mess around with the animations to get it just right, paying particular attention to how the augmented movements would feel with the physical space. What’s the right angle of an object? Which way is the object facing initially — towards or away from the user? How does it change as the user moves their arm or phone? We played out all of these scenarios before settling on the right size of these objects.
The principal idea behind the product is to create an interaction that immerses the person into a mode of play and wonder. One of the limitations of augmented experiences is that it is often a one time “wonder”; people experience it, they are wow-ed by it and if they come back to it, there’s nothing new. We did not want a one time experience. So, we designed it such that people would get a new experience intermittently, by providing a wide array of small floating or flying objects that the user could experience over a period of time. For example, when they see a flying toy plane on their wrist, it will last for a few days, before a new augmented object is revealed. The placement, size, and overall experience stays consistent, but the object and its specific behavior will change to keep the user engaged.
For our team specifically with this product, we had so much fun seeing the reactions of people as they engaged with a floating digital object emerging from what they were wearing, and watching how they they moved about putting that digital object in their physical context.
The emerging field of Augmented and Mixed Reality is extremely dynamic. The possibilities are sometimes hard to grasp. It’s precisely because of this that designers and makers currently have at their disposal an immense space for experimentation with the medium.
This project was created at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design for the Immersive Experiences course taught by Joshua Walton and James Tichenor. Designers on this project : Abhishek Kumar, Fahmida Azad & Raphael Katz