Space Adventure Zone

Interactive Augmented Reality experience in which users see on their phone screens an Earth revolving around a Sun projected in the center of a room covered in AR tags. Users appear as space whales to each other, all while whale songs and Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” play in the background.

the origin

The physics department at Brown University has a wonderful burgeoning tradition of putting together a yearly “Physics Art Show” to showcase talents generally unseen and unappreciated. My friends and I wanted to make a submission and one of us had recently seen on either Hacker News or possibly GitHub trending that someone had made a javascript version of a popular augmented reality (AR) software library, ARtoolkit. This opened up the possibility for a web app in which the user’s phone serves as the augmented reality window.

We batted around many possibilities, but ultimately the idea of making a virtual orrery of sorts felt both technically doable and science-themed enough (not that the Physics art show actual requires said theme, but it still feels kinda right). As the kicker, we liked the idea of making everyone appear as a space whale in each other’s phones. Finally, it turns out there are many cheap (dot) zone domains to be had for all those seeking zone relating internet productions, and so spaceadventure.zone was born.

the build

The goal was to have people use their phones as windows through which a virtual Earth revolving around a virtual sun could be seen, all while appearing to everyone else in the room as a virtual whale. People were instructed to head over to spaceadventure.zone which had the web app that would use their phone’s camera.

ARtoolkit allows 3D rendered objects to be projected into a physical space. That placement is determined, and updated, by viewing a predetermined symbol and interpreting where the phone camera must be relative to the symbol based on how the camera’s perspective distorts its image. The picture to the left is stolen from their site showing a little dude projected on top of such a symbol. The software can also function with multiple symbols that can coat the walls of a room, such as what we did. Placing symbols everywhere ensures no matter where the user points their phone, one of these tags (and hopefully multiple tags for better accuracy) will be visible.

A symbol viewed straight on will appear exactly as expected, save for some kind of sizing. Closer to the symbol and it will appear bigger in the phone’s camera and vice versa, giving the phone a relative distance from the symbol. Off-axis projections are slightly more complicated, and recognizing parts of an image as a symbol in the first place far more complicated still, but the beauty of the modern age is someone else has done all of that hard work for us 🙂

The 3D rendered objects were made in three js, a javascrip 3D library.

the team other than me, Will Maulbetsch, this is my website

Ben Wiener – fellow (at the time, and now graduated) grad student working in the same biophysics lab as me.

Phil Zucker – also fellow (and now graduated) grad student working in theoretical condensed matter physics.

the future (perhaps)

My original idea was called Destorrery, in which people bear witness to various doomsday scenarios of the Earth’s final demise (or at least human’s final demise). But just before total destruction a spaceship launches with humanities last hope of survival. Climate change, nuclear war, and impossibly large asteroid impacts were a few possible scenarios. I still like the idea of watching a movie in an AR space, and specifically watching Earth from an astronaut’s perspective. A small and terrestrial version of the overview effect.

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