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Building an AR magnifying glass

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Aurasma is a free app that allows you to create your own augmented reality overlays linked to a trigger image. I have been in love with the idea for a couple of years now, and have been on high alert for an opportunity to inject a little augmented reality into an interactive experience. With Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things, I finally found the opportunity I was looking for! 

In case you're catching up on the whole "Sherlock" thing, this Huffington Post article really sums it up perfectly. I'll just quote a bit here so you can understand how the experience works: 


"...the first step is for a group to tape out the outline of a body. Multiple groups do this at once. Then the groups come together and--like strangers on a train--they swap murders. Well, bodies in this case. The second group comes in and puts down a series of objects--or in the really stripped down version post-it notes with the names of objects on them--around the outline. Then the first group comes back and--Sherlock style--devises the story of how all the pieces come together to describe the murder. It's a mystery game where the identity of the killer isn't known at the outset, and the goal isn't to solve the mystery so much as it is to come up with the coolest explanation of the crime scene."


As we geared up for the globally connected event in late October, we decided that an augmented reality magnifying glass would fit right into the world of Sherlock and give our participants here in Paris a taste of what it would be like to have a "connected" object providing them with additional clues. For this new iteration of the experience, we changed the process slightly. After taping out their bodies, participants placed evidence tags around the crime scenes and then examined the "evidence" through their "magnifying glass", the Aurasma app.

My first test had been incredibly promising. 


"Piece of cake!", I thought. For our first event in September, the gifted Alexis Niki of Storynova had hand-drawn some wonderful objects taken from the world of Sherlock Holmes. All I had to do was photoshop an "Aha! You've found a whatever it is!" onto each object and connect them via Aurasma to 51 square evidence tags. Easy peasy, right? Wrong!


It turns out that Aurasma needs relatively complex images to serve as "triggers" for the augmented reality content. Just a number isn't enough - the app would confuse 6 and 9, for example, or 5 and 51... 

Days of experimentation later, I had discovered the trick: to make all the trigger images look similar, so that we could still recognise them as crime scene evidence tags, and yet different enough so that the app could tell them apart.

The result was an unqualified success! Well worth the long process of trial and error that it took for me to actually program the whole thing! Here's my second test. It gives you an idea of what the participants could see...

I can't even begin to tell you how much fun this was to play with! And the possibilities are endless: scavenger hunts, adding content to your child's picture books, gaming, museum or art exhibits...

It's very simple for just about anyone to use. If you'd like to know more and/or do it yourself, I've put together a "How To" that you can find HERE. If you decide to do this yourself, I'd love to know what you came up with!