Augmented Reality is a fascinating tool that can bring magic and stories into our daily lives.

What is Island AR?

IslandAR is an Augmented Reality experience designed for children and families visiting Governors Island in New York City. The application was initially designed for the island but the concept is scalable and could be implemented in different urban spaces.

IslandAR provides mysterious puzzle pieces that unlock shared AR experiences, hidden characters & fun stories from past and present on Governors Island.

How does it work?

Each visitor receives a beautifully designed wood puzzle piece representing a character from one of the three categories: human, fauna, flora. As the visitor wanders around the island, he/she can augment his/her puzzle piece and see his/her character (little girl, bird, fox, tree, flower, etc.) come to life and tell him/her a story about the island. The stories are dependent on the characters and on the location of the visitor (using geo-fencing technology).

To make this experience more of a shared and participative experience, I also created what are called Story Points. Story Points are specific locations around the island where wood totems are posted. In these wood totems, it is possible to place three puzzle pieces (one for each category) in order to unlock a longer and more immersive AR story. The user can also rotate the center piece of the totem in order to discover different stories.

What were the challenges?

Developing this experience has been a wonderful challenge. I had to explore the technical aspects of geofenced AR, as well as marker based AR using Unity and Vuforia. The rotating markers have been a particularly difficult aspect of it. I had to really study the way image recognition worked within vuforia in order to create a design that would be recognizable differently according to its orientation. And I remember the great feeling of being finally able to tackle this challenge. I am also very proud of this concept in general as I have never heard of something like that being done before.

Lessons learned?

I learned a lot during this process and some of my takeaways are as follows:

  1. Nothing compares to being physically in the space as AR builds upon physical space. I learnt tremendously every time I got to go to the island and also just taking the app outside.
  2. Start prototyping as soon as possible, try, fail, learn and iterate.
  3. More engagement comes with a shared experience and “gamifying” the experience.
  4. Storytelling is key. The technological and magical aspect of AR fades away quickly, the stories are what drive the user to come back and explore more.

What’s next for IslandAR?

IslandAR is currently a prototype and needs additional development (mainly in the augmentations : modeling, animations, etc.).

This project was initially developed during a fellowship partnering the advertising company Havas, the NYC Media Lab and The Trust for Governors Island. As part of this fellowship, I am currently in competition to win additional funding in order to further the development of IslandAR.

I am also putting together a proposal in order to pitch the idea to several companies and investors that could be interested in the project. Ideally, the project would receive enough funding in the next few months in order to launch on Governors Island during their summer season.

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