Augmented Reality is for Real!
Augmented reality (AR) is a flashy effect that can be used to bring out the interactive component in print—a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
As such, it offers a new and exciting opportunity for print service providers to drive home the value of print as an integral part of any marketing campaign or corporate identity package.
AR “hasn’t gotten a lot of media play,” notes NAPL consultant Howie Fenton, “or at least not as much as something like QR codes. Both are really trying to accomplish the same thing, to find ways to add value to print by combining them with other media.”
Augmented reality is another way to try and add more value to print. “It also requires a technology to use it,” says Fenton, “so you’re either using it with a computer or with a tablet, like an iPad, or with your smartphone. I think augmented reality is a lot like some of these other niche value-added services that somebody could offer.”
“Augmented reality is really just taking files and changing them in such a way that you can produce them in video form of some sort,” notes Mitch Evans, the principal of Mitch Evans Consulting and The Next Level Group in Daufuskie Island, SC, and managing director of the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP). “There is a lot of digital artwork that can be incorporated into this stuff.”
“In 2009, augmented reality was starting to come into its own by way of a Flash-based library called FLARToolkit (Flash Augmented Reality Toolkit),” recounts Burton Posey, an interactive game designer and developer in Atlanta who went so far as to post a YouTube video about how he’s using AR on his business cards. “I did Flash development in my job and, taking a cue from the Mii character on the Nintendo Wii, I thought it would be neat to have a cartoony representation of a company employee with some information about them—kind of like a baseball card, but alive and sort of in your environment a bit. My interest in this fell upon deaf ears at the company I worked for, so I took the idea and ran with it myself.”
Doing that cost Posey two to three months of off-work hours. Some of the aspects of the technology weren’t quite figured out yet, he notes, “So I had to stop for a month, go to the library and get updated with the technology I was missing, which was the ability for my character to animate properly.”
In April 2009 he started fielding requests from clients around the world for the business cards. “I have sort of come into my own about understanding what my time and the competencies required to do this sort of work are actually worth, so I’ve started charging more. I really didn’t know what my time was worth until I started asking more for my time.”
There are licensing costs that come along with this technology as well. “I’m not sure what the current rates are for the FLARToolkit,” says Posey, “but I believe it used to cost upwards of $7,000 for a license to use the software.” Those who choose not to pay for the license have to operate under an open source license, he adds, “Where anyone can ask for the source code for your project—creative assets and all—and they will have to legally fulfill the request. This isn’t even considering an application that would work with a phone. That’s a whole different ballgame with many other cost factors and competencies that come into play, as well.”
Inside an Image
“You can do different things with augmented reality,” explains Fenton. “One of the most famous was when LEGO did a campaign with augmented reality and generated twice as much sales of their product. The consumer took the box and held it in front of this kiosk, and all of a sudden you could see the LEGO blocks sort of assemble themselves.” Though the process has limited applications, at least at present, something like that packaging application “is a great idea. Comic book characters are big, too; you can make things fly around if you want.”