Most AR exhibits—like the 3-D sculptures that
layered over the real world last fall—have used simpler techniques like projection mapping or Snapchat-style filters, which lack the functionality necessary for a more interactive experience. The creators of Objects in Mirror
initially explored Apple and Google’s offerings, ARKit and ARCore, which allow you to map a room and place interactive 3-D objects using simultaneous localization and mapping, also known as SLAM. But the software lacked the image-recognition ability necessary for the show. Working with The Molecule, a visual effects studio, the team instead opted to use Vuforia, a platform geared toward image recognition and triggers.
For hardware, a strapped-on headset was also the initial plan, which would enable the audience to explore hands-free. But the physical terrain of the installation was deemed too precarious, and the best AR hardware available, Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Magic Leap, is still too clunky and expensive for creatives working on a budget. Instead, participants navigate around the physical space and one another, using one hand to hold the viewer (a $12 off-the-shelf Tzumi headset) and the other to pick up objects.
The future is not one filled with QR codes or awkward handheld devices. The technical and financial barriers to entry for AR will continue to drop in the coming months, and tools like ARKit, ARcore, Unity, WebGL, and node.js will become increasingly accessible for use by non-developers. Location and spatial data will become automated triggers, and, as AR becomes more stable and persistent, we will start to see a lot more opportunities for experimentation open up.
Sobelle’s set includes nods toward this obsolescence of technology. Next to a dusty Victrola, a box labelled “mice” holds a plastic toy rodent tangled in the wires of 1980s Apple Bus mice. In a pile of books, there’s a copy of the 1999 book Internet Cool Guide: A Savvy Guide to the Hottest Web Sites. Panasonic RCA camcorders litter the periphery of the installation; once prized household possessions, they now look prehistoric—much like today’s evolving VR and AR headsets, which rapidly become fossils when new models are released.
The whole experience feels like getting lost in your grandparents’ attic—which is to say, it’s hard to keep track of time. But then a notification pops up, a reminder that there’s a phone a few inches from my nose. Text floats over the sea of detritus, breaking the magic: “System UI - Battery Power 15%.” I exit the installation into the main atrium of Storyscapes, a long hallway of VR demos. Opposite, two men sit in an Oculus booth, slumped in chairs watching Campfire Creepers, a 12-minute horror show. I consider for a moment, then opt to step outside for some air.