December 4, 2020

augmented reality changes the way we play (and learn)


What started as a joke turned out to be one of the most revolutionary games of the decade. On April Fool’s Day 2014 (the equivalent of the Day of the Innocent Saints in Spain) the Google Maps team decided to launch Pokémon Challenge, a game that invited you to hunt the 150 pokémon scattered around the world through the company’s maps . His trailer, although unreal, let the imagination fly: it showed people walking through mountains or deserts trying to capture different creatures with their mobile. On July 6, 2016, that fantasy became reality.

Pokémon GO took all the statistics: It was more searched than the word ‘porn’, it surpassed in downloads to applications like Tinder and it had almost as many active users as Twitter. Social networks also began to fill with people posing with their favorite characters, because, in addition, another of the peculiarities is that we could use the app to place the creatures where we wanted and take a photo.

With this, the game not only existed on mobile, but it blurred the line between the real and virtual world to make us even more involved in the content that appeared on the screen. And, probably, that was the moment when a technology that was not exactly new began to become popular: augmented reality.

Four years after the launch of Pokemon go, that same technology continues to be talked about through titles such as the recently launched Mario Kart Live Tour. This game for Nintendo Switch is for practical purposes a modern Scalextric that allows us to turn our living room into a racing circuit. It consists of a car equipped with a camera that relays the image to the console, from where you can control and see where the kart is driving.

Broadly speaking, we can say augmented reality allows us to use an electronic device (be it a tablet, smartphone or video game console) to incorporate virtual elements into our environment. Y Pokemon go It is not that it was the first app to use this function, but rather to democratize it and make it available to many people who were unaware of it at the time. Its origin, as indicated on the web specialized in Xataka technology, dates back to 1950. It was then that the filmmaker Morton Heilig registered a patent on the Sensorama, a “multisensory” cinema that allowed the viewer to experience first-hand what it felt like to ride a motorcycle by blowing wind in their faces.

Augmented reality for everyone

Another of the big steps in augmented reality was taken in 2017, when Apple introduced a package of developer tools called ARKit. “The great advance is that no codes or images are needed to recognize the environment that surrounds you,” Santiago González, technical director of the Spanish company ARSoft, explained to elDiario.es. “It creates a three-dimensional map and based on that allows to place virtual elements,” he added.

From then on, the Internet was filled with small demonstrations of what this technology allowed: a virtual pet, Ikea furniture that is integrated into our home, or even a car that we can see and customize without having to step on a dealer.

The drawback in 2017 was that augmented reality was not available to everyone: you had to have a compatible device and these were usually the high-end ones. However, the progressive improvement in the processors and the optimization of the devices has gradually made it available to almost everyone.

The universe in your hand and the living room like a racing circuit


Learning is equally possible. The Star Walk 2 app, for example, it allows us to point the mobile camera at the sky to identify which stars or constellations are located above our heads. In this way, all you have to do is raise your smartphone to identify where Ursa Major is or where the Scorpio constellation is. Even if what we want is to know how the universe was formed, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) has developed an application that uses our hand as a canvas to talk about the origins of the cosmos.

The varieties of apps are multiple and collecting all of them would make for an inexhaustible list. Is also Atlas Anatomy, which instead of the universe gives the possibility to explore with 3D models of the human body that can be rotated and turned while they explain how they work as an encyclopedia. It is the demonstration that augmented reality is not a passing fad, but a technology that we first saw in science fiction and that is now part of our lives. But the uses of augmented reality are as many as developers imagine. They can range from the most practical, such as using the mobile camera as a level or meter, to the most banal. But there are a number of apps that allow the fusion of lifelong activities with the support of technology.

It is the case of the already mentioned Mario Kart Live Tour. As with the now almost forgotten Scalextric, the most interesting thing is not so much the process of racing with the car as that of creating different tracks in a creative way. This is where the imagination can transform books into a tunnel or a tray into a ramp from which to jump (and probably stamp). The car’s camera is also capable of recognizing the cardboard structures that the circuit runs through, such as the arches that mark the start and end of the race. Of course, the arrangement of these finds a fairly obvious limit: the square meters that the room has.


Creating this 21st century remote control car has not been easy. Karthik Bala, one of its developers, told in an interview conducted by El País that the first prototype came to light in 2017 and that since then they have had to work to turn the idea into a reality. But there was one main problem to overcome: the lag and the drops of the wireless connection. “We had to develop new solutions for real-time HD video, high-speed vision, responsiveness of driving and steering, or convincingly merge the digital world with the real world,” says the co-creator to the same newspaper. . It is the demonstration that augmented reality is not a passing fad, but a technology that we first saw in science fiction and that now is part of our lives despite the fact that cats, that have proven to be great enemies of these radio-controlled karts, don’t always agree.

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