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Published by Sumona Chakravarty

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Published by: Sumona Chakravarty on Sep 29, 2011
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12/10/2013

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Presence: Augmented Reality Flash Mob (2010)
Project Credits: Sander Veenhof At exactly 14.00 hours, April 24th, 2010 the world’s first augmented reality flash-mob took place. Dam Square in Amsterdam filled up with people using Android and iPhone devices, peering through their device cameras at QR-codes pasted on the ground that, through the screen of the device, revealed virtual 3D characters. Participants could also download and bring their own AR human sculpture models. Participants downloaded the mobile application Layar on their phones. This application can read a QR-code label placed at a specific location through the smart phone camera and then layer the image on the screen with a virtual 3D model of a character in place of the QR-code label. Treating these virtual sculptures like public monuments, people posed for photographs alongside the invisible model. The key difference between usual interactions with monuments and the AR experience was that, at the flash mob, ordinary people, who otherwise have no participation in shaping the identity of the city and its symbols of history, could now virtually establish new public monuments in public spaces. The participants were able to choose between different characters – from the iconic to the banal and the Square was filled with virtual models that were integrated into the physical space. Sander Veenhof, the creator of the project, has also staged

Advertising the Flash Mob

http://www.sndrv.nl/ARflashmob/

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Presence: Augmented Reality Flash Mob
similar interventions at the MoMa, where participants could integrate an alternative virtual exhibition into the physical exhibits. Instead of the usual methods of using QR-codes for advertising and influencing customer behavior, he uses Augmented Reality as a tool for hacking public and private spaces, creating a possibility of a new, accessible virtual public space that each individual can shape according to his or her own desire. While the novelty of the experience was the main incentive for participating in the flash-mob, the idea of creating and embedding a QR-code into the landscape can become a DIY tool for enabling new modes of culture jamming and protest. This gives every individual a voice and a platform to express themselves within the imposed landscape of the city. However, this empowerment may remain at a symbolic level unless the use of AR is critically articulated. An observer at the flash-mob noticed how everybody was engrossed in using their phones, peering excitedly at the screen into a brave new world shaped by them. However, antithetically, they were oblivious to the presence of the other participants. The individual visions of a new world controlled by the individual according to his or her ideas and opinions remains limited to a tiny mobile phone screen as a mere object of curiosity. Unless AR is consciously used as a tool to create different meanings within a space, and shares those meanings via a collective dialogue, these individual visions will have no effect in shaping the world.

Scanning the Q-Code through a Smart phone camera creates a virtual sculpture in the space

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Presence: Augmented Reality Flash Mob

Imagining an alternate flash-mob, where participants could create their own models instead of using those generated by the artists, would have amplified the power of the experience. Moreover, had there been a large screen where participants could share their individual AR manifestation, there might have been a way to create more meaningful interactions within the flash-mob. The project successfully creates an exciting vision of a future AR world. These new, almost magical possibilities also create new questions. How do we not only create our individual, augmented interpretations of the world, but also share these virtual visions? Could this exchange create a dialogue and a collective vision that would transform a virtual control over our world to a more tangible sense of agency?

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