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Sharing the story of spaces with augmented reality

Speed read
  • Perceptoscope helps tell the story of space and place.
  • Augmented reality brings the invisible past into the present.
  • Fixed positioning increases quality of viewing experience.

Every town has one. So does your neighborhood. Every country, every highway and byway has one, too. What is it?

A history — each of our places has a prior existence we no longer see; a story we no longer hear.

What structure used to be in that square? Who lived in that building? Which event occurred at that intersection?  These are questions lost to time.

But if the makers of Perceptoscope get their wish, the story of spaces will be remembered.

Perceptoscope looks a lot like those fixed sets of viewing binoculars you might see mounted at the top of the Empire State Building. But unlike those steady sight-seeing attendants of old, Perceptoscope imports the invisible history of a place into your viewing experience.

<strong>Historical perspective.</strong> Perceptoscope offers a way to experience the history of a place and time long since removed. Courtesy Ben Sax.

“The goal was to use Perceptoscopes as part of more directed action, like to point out long lost artifacts of urban development or displaced communities,” summarizes creator Ben Sax. “However, this is a tool lots of organizations and locations could find a use for. We hope the ultimate effect of a Perceptoscope deployment is to bring communities in better touch with their surroundings and each other.”

To tell the story of a place, Perceptoscope places a secondary layer of objects and information on top of the normal images seen when looking through tourist attraction view-finders.  

Nuts & bolts

The Perceptoscope consists of three primary components: optics, sensors, and an embedded computer system. What makes the Perceptoscope version of augmented reality superior to others is the absolute positioning offered by the fixed pedestals.

“Because it’s an object that's fixed in a space with a limited range of motion, we can use mechanical tracking to understand the scope's absolute position,” says Sax. “Since it’s not a wearable, the optics can focus on things like field of view and resolution over weight, and the internal computer can be strong enough to handle whatever gets thrown at it. By starting with a different set of rules than a wearable or mobile device, Perceptoscopes can solve the problem of augmented reality in a fresh way.”

Absolute positioning reduces tracking latency, giving virtual objects that fixed-in-space feeling. Another advantage to its permanent positioning is that viewing experiences can be curated in partnership with particular venues where they're deployed, Sax says.

<strong> Survival of the fittest. </strong>Early versions of Perceptoscope nearly met their end at the hands of school children. Battle-tested, this virtual time machine is now mission ready. Courtesy Ben Sax.

One of the biggest challenges Sax has faced is making it durable enough for public use. “Building something that can persist the abuse of public deployment is extremely challenging to do, and early prototypes were nearly destroyed at the hands of enthusiastic groups of children.”

Having survived the child challenge, Perceptoscope has finally arrived at a place where the technology feels mission ready and stable, Sax says. See how they fare by following their project logs as they go through their inaugural residency at the SupplyFrame DesignLab.  

Looking ahead

Sax sees a bonanza of potential applications for Perceptoscope, ranging from scientific visualizations to historical and architectural simulations. Firmly in the camp of using technology for the greater good, Sax hopes to help us regain a greater awareness of our immediate communities and surroundings, and give us ears to hear the stories of our past.

“Augmented reality is just emerging as a medium and many of the rules are yet to be written,” says Sax. “We’re excited to be part of the ongoing conversation around this new form of storytelling in the years to come.”

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