Innovation Sprint Series: How we’re experimenting with augmented reality

Imagine you’re walking down the street and news articles are popping up around you. To your right, you see a story about a new cannabis dispensary and to your left, you see a headline about protesters. As you walk, you learn the history of the street. Now, imagine all of this is coming through your smartphone.

This concept was envisioned by Viviane Chan, a CBC Digital Products iOS developer. She developed this concept during her team’s 20 per cent time. Digital Products encourages its teams to spend 20 per cent of their time on innovation and creative thinking.

A mockup of the concept — news stories appear based on location. (Viviane Chan/CBC)

At the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple released ARKit, an augmented reality API tool for developers. This inspired Viviane to explore the large and sometimes complex world of augmented reality (AR). Using ARKit, Viviane developed a proof of concept iOS app during her 20 per cent time last September.

Flash forward a few months and now it’s CBC Digital Product’s two-week Innovation Sprint — the perfect opportunity for Viviane to work on her idea again and collaborate with others keen on working with AR and virtual reality (VR).

Building a prototype from scratch

Viviane envisioned using augmented reality to display geolocated news stories on smartphones as people walked through different locations. In this concept, stories could also be filtered by distance and time (for example, I could specify I only want to see stories from the past week, within 5km of my house). Because stories are already time stamped, it would only require editors to add GPS coordinates — then stories would pop up in the app in their associated locations!

After pitching the idea on the first day of the Innovation Sprint, Viviane assembled a team of seven, including UX designers, web developers, AV specialists and an Android developer. This combined skill set allowed them to hit the ground running with brainstorming, discovery and division of work.

They tried to maximize everyone’s interests and skills and set goals to have 360 videos and photos (videos and photos that show views of every direction, shot with an omnidirectional camera) for the web, as well as working prototype iOS and Android apps, all by the end of the two-week Sprint.

The learning curve and limitations

The first two days were spent making a game plan and dividing work, then they began coding individually. Using their own Slack channel, the team was able to keep in touch throughout the day, and also met daily to show their progress and discuss technical challenges.

Throughout the Innovation Sprint, they discovered a few potential limitations of their project. The main one being that downloading 360º videos consumes a lot of data, making it unlikely that people will use it without Wi-Fi. To resolve this limitation, they implemented a 2D view along with the 3D view, offering people different options for accessing news content.

A mockup of the smartphone apps, showing both 2D and 3D views. (Viviane Chan/CBC)

At the end of the sprint they accomplished more than they anticipated and finished with working prototypes. The team further developed and polished the iOS app Viviane started last September and also developed an Android app and web page, implementing both 2D and 3D views. Overall, they had fun experimenting with 360º cameras and exploring new ways to deliver news content.

The 360 web page view developed by the team during the Sprint. (Viviane Chan/CBC)

At the end of the Innovation Sprint teams presented their projects in the atrium of the Toronto Broadcast Centre. Viviane’s team was amazed by all the interest their project received. People loved how the project presented a unique and personal experience of the news.

The team showcases their prototype in this video. (Ilia Ovsichtcher/CBC)

In the future, Viviane is hoping to see this project expanded. Given the strong interest surrounding this concept, she’s already exploring how she can work with other teams across CBC to continue working with AR and VR. One idea she has is to form a working group to help these relevant and topical technologies continue to grow and evolve.

Our Innovation Sprint series will continue next week with Brooke Stephens who built a bigger and better search function for CBC Radio.

P.S. If you haven’t seen our video from the Innovation Sprint, here it is!