Run AR — An Augmented Reality Prototype Exploration
Augmented reality (AR) has a plethora of use cases just waiting to be explored. I think we all have some ideas of how this technology will shape our daily lives in the near future. This article is about my exploration into one way that AR might change my own life by integrating it into an area where the mundane has the opportunity to be so much more interesting — running.
Naturally, I conceived this idea while doing one of my morning runs. I have a treadmill that I dread getting on like so many others, but it’s the most comfortable alternative to running outdoors when it’s cold outside. The treadmill has many useful features like a heart rate monitor, distance ran, pace, and clock. It even has an accompanying video guide where trainers can run alongside you, offering encouragements or even just distracting conversation, making running a bit more enjoyable. It even has trail runs with maps indicating your progress. Many treadmills on the market offer similar features, but that’s not the point of this article. I mention it because many of those features would be nice to have when you are running outdoors. Many of these features are covered nowadays by smartwatches, heart rate monitors, GPS devices, and smartphones. There are even augmented reality glasses like Bose produces that offer audio-only augmented running experiences like in Earplay.
I was looking to augment my trail running experience with some of these features. I thought an excellent way to do that was to create a video prototype illustrating the kind of experience I was looking for. Below is a clip of that prototype.
In the prototype video, you can see that all of the controls are voice commands. When you are running, your hands are already occupied with the activity and not very useful for interacting with virtual interfaces. All visuals are towards the top of the screen, allowing room for the runner to look at the ground ahead. Most of their attention will likely be where their feet will land, and we don’t want to obstruct that.
Occasionally, a runner will run under a branch or other kind of low overhang. Overhead obstacles can be hard to detect, so drawing attention to those for obstacle avoidance is wise.
Another feature like having a virtual pacer that can keep you moving consistently is helpful and motivating for runners. They act as a visual guide leading the way down your running path.
Waypoints are also an excellent way to understand how far you’ve gone and perhaps where your intended destination will reside. Keeping your eye on the prize is an easy way not to get lost and judge your effort levels. Mapping waypoints might be done ahead of time in an accompanying app or layered in dynamically. A SLAM function might automatically place these for runs you or others have done in the past.
Helpful tips for interacting with the application might present themselves occasionally to keep you informed and learning about how to interact with the app in new ways. I didn’t prototype out all interactions, just a few to pique my curiosity and expand the horizons of what our augmented reality future might look like.
Other Possible Features
I can imagine other features like:
- interactive maps
- weather updates like temperature changes and barometric changes
- altitude changes
- music controls
- interactive audio stories
- rewards and achievements
- sign translation
- detour route suggestions
Multiplayer components would be interesting too:
- talking to other runners wirelessly
- seeing pacers for other runners who have done this same run (including your own)
- video streaming your run to followers or other runners
- remote monitoring of vitals
- remote coaching
- gamification with scores and leaderboards
- race management and interactive participation
I’m convinced there is a future for this kind of idea on the market. Runners worldwide might be using something like this very soon.
How I Built This Prototype
For those interested in HOW I created this prototype, here is a quick step-by-step guide on how I built it.
- Found running video on YouTube and downloaded it using a free service.
- I edited a clip I wanted to prototype around using Adobe Premiere.
- Imported the clip into a VR application called Tvori (it requires a Pro or Enterprise license that allows media import.)
- I placed a plane in a new scene and used the video as a texture map by dragging it onto it.
- I pulled a camera out of the Shelf and placed it so the screen filled it.
- Pulled a locator out of the Shelf and placed it approximately where the path was in the video.
- I pulled a character out of the Shelf and parented it to the locator (so I can move the root easily without modifying lots of animation).
- I next animated the character in a run cycle leveraging the Animators Survival Kit page 178.
- Pulled a slightly curved planed out of the Shelf and gave it a dark multiply material using Materializer and parented it to the Camera
- I then added all of the text bits and animated them in and out of the scene.
- Pulled a tree out of the Shelf, gave it an additive red material using Materializer, and animated it onto the scene where the branches come close to the runner’s head.
- I pulled a bracket icon out and did the same as the branch.
- I pulled a locator icon out of the Shelf and created the waypoint animation.
- I added visibility keys to everything that appears and disappears in the scene.
- Recorded the entire animation using OBS Studio to capture the VR window from Tvori.
The entire process only took a few hours. Most of the time was spent animating the run cycle and tweaking it not to look so jerky. I only partially succeeded with this, but it’s still super easy to do in Tvori and way faster than trying to do it in a commercial 3D application like Maya or Blender.