I recently found an early access app in the Google Play store called Assemblr. It’s a Minecraft-like sandbox where you can build in 3-d, then drop these creations into augmented reality or even VR.
I’ve been playing around with it, and while it is pretty buggy, it’s very feature rich. There a lot of pre-made elements that you can drop into a scene. You can also build with blocks or other assorted shapes for a real Minecraft experience. The skins and colors are customizable with detailed textures. I’m having a hard time getting the AR elements to work consistently, but I am going to be in contact with the developers because I really, really want this to work.
The applications for a handheld AR platform are incredible. What if you could have a zero impact art installation in a local park? Or graffiti that is secret? Signage for local business could be revolutionized, especially in cramped, busy cities. You could leave messages in a bottle on the sidewalk that can only be read by people with a certain app. Or you could add to certain places, such as supporting your team by leaving a message at a sports arena up on the wall. Or glamming up a statue in a sort of digital yarn-bombing. You could interact with great works of art and remix them into something original.
But as someone who spends a lot of time at theme parks, I think this technology is a huge opportunity. One big criticism of theme parks is the manufactured nature of your environment. You don’t have much impact over the things around you. Over the years, these things have begun to change. I first noticed it in the immersive environments in the queues at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where the now-closed Dragon Challenge coasters had a part of the line make it seem like there was a dragon on the other side of the wall ready to attack. Recently, the refurbishment of Disney rides means they have started doing the same, with games and touch screens to keep guests entertained while they wait.
What if, instead of just distracting guests while they wait in line, you build on that concept to build up the entire world of the park? You could have an augmented reality map, with a line guiding guests to their destination projected onto the ground. You could have AR experiences that enhance the settings of the different Kingdoms. A large pirate ship outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Animated birds flitting around, tempting you to go into the Enchanted Tiki Room. A large billboard for space tourism outside of Space Mountain. Animated characters appearing in Fantasyland and Presidents hanging out outside the Hall of Presidents. A parade float with an augmented reality beacon could have a fire-breathing dragon on top of it. You could have information about different types of flowers in the landscaping during the Flower and Garden festival at Epcot. You could have extra content about the different animals living at Animal Kingdom. You could have AR backgrounds in pictures that can only be accessed by visiting a designated Photo Spot.
And the best part of all this is that it would be cheaper to create than actually physically refurbishing the entire façade of a section of the park. This would allow for the constant creation of new material, which would keep the experience fresh and relevant. Seasonal content could be the Hitchhiking Ghosts dressed up as carolers outside of the Haunted Mansion during the Holidays. It could also enhance the experience of other secondary experiences in the parks, such as the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, with hints or bonus content hidden throughout the park.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this little app improves. Hopefully they develop a social media component, so you can drop augmented reality blips and have others visit them.
And if the Walt Disney World Imagineers happen to stumble across this and like what they hear, they can contact me using this form.