Taking the Plunge

Certainly the glass was beginning to melt away," wrote Lewis Carroll, "Just like a bright silvery mist." Sort of how InterPublic's Emerging Media Lab's partnership with Total Immersion plunges into the misty world of Augmented Reality Advertising.

Total Immersion's technology creates a mash-up of reality and fantasy that's displayed on digital screens in a way that seems to take viewers through the looking glass. The screen appears to be showing them in their real surroundings, just like the video monitors in convenience stores. But almost any digital asset can be mixed in. The technical term for this is "augmented reality."

"Augmented reality is a new kind of medium," says Greg Davis, general manager of U.S. operations for Total Immersion. "If you think of the Web as the backbone of where information lives, this is the presentation layer."

To create this altered reality, a video camera records a live scene and feeds it to a digital screen, while 3D computer-generated components are dynamically merged into the live video stream in real time. For example, at Six Flags theme parks, visitors to the Dark Knight ride see themselves transformed into one of the Joker's henchmen in an interactive mirror that's really a digital screen.

The technology has also been used on large-screen digital signage, at trade shows and in games. Infiniti used it in kiosks introducing the EX. Car show attendees could take a brochure and rip out special pages that let them access 3D "experiences" on the screen, such as driving the car around three-dimensional terrain.

In a demo for LEGO, shoppers could bring a box of the click-together toys to a kiosk and see what the kit would look like when fully assembled.

Now, Total Immersion's whiz-bang will appear within the IPG Emerging Media Lab's Digital Out-of-Home Experience, a new section of the Lab that's working on placing brand messages on digital screens and billboards located in public spaces.

The two-year-old Los Angeles Lab also contains a smart kitchen, digital living room, science playroom and fully loaded conference room where staff and visitors can pretend they're in the gee-whiz future.

But the real juice in augmented reality is on mobile devices, according to Lori Schwartz, senior vice president and director of the Lab. Because Total Immersion can assign a digital asset to real-world visual cues, it could be used to trigger location-specific information, entertainment or ads. "Say you're an American traveling in China, and you don't speak Chinese. You can point your phone at a restaurant, and it will translate the name and even play video. That visual recognition will trigger information through your phone."

This kind of stuff is already beginning globally, and Schwartz even sees it coming to the mobile app-lagging United States. She says, "Adding a layer to the mobile information, and creating an integrated solution with location-based
services - that's the rock star stuff."
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