Augmented Reality is Ready to Play

Augmented Reality is Ready to Play
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Toys, games, and educational experiences are coming to life with augmented reality.

At Mission Data, we think a lot about how emerging technology can revolutionize the world of business. Immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR) bring an opportunity for workers to be more efficient, informed, and safer in real-time. By laying digital interactions over the physical world, augmented reality is essentially bringing surfaces to life. However, as AR moves from novelty to wider acceptance, it’s entertainment companies such as game and toy makers that are leading the way—and they’re turning the technology into a whole lot of fun.

I recently attended a talk on AR trends at Northside, Brooklyn, NY’s more indie version of SXSW. Panel host Lex Dreitser of NYC VR University encouraged the audience to peel back the lens of commercialization and consider just how magical technologies like augmented reality can truly be. We’re now able to interact and experience content in completely new ways.

Virtual reality (VR) is inherently isolating—users put on headsets or goggles and are immersed in another world—and video games can encourage static, solitary play. But AR allows users to remain in the physical world, interacting with technology in a more social way. For engineers like Dreitser and the others on the panel, developing AR toys is not only a way to teach digital skills to younger generations, but it’s also a way for them to stay creative and inspired. “Toys are the tools we use for growing up,” said Jeremy Kenisky, vice president of Merge VR.

While Pokemon Go brought AR entertainment to the mainstream last year, keep your eye out for these exciting new augmented reality toymakers discovered at Northside:


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Launching in the UK this fall and in the US in early 2018, SwapBots are blocks that stack to form totem pole-like characters. The blocks are fun to play with on their own, but view them with the accompanying mobile app and the characters spring to life and can play a series of interactive games. Interchanging the blocks creates new characters, and when the toys launch, they will have the ability to battle each other. SwapBots are expected to be priced at $20 each and the company founders say the games will always be free with no in-app purchases to keep the product family-friendly. You can pre-order SwapBots on Indiegogo here.

Merge Cube

Fresh off of winning “Most Unique Product” at CES 2017, Merge Cube’s tagline is “the hologram you hold in your hand.” The cube itself is actually made of foam, but when its tracking markers are picked up by a smartphone, or a smartphone worn with the Merge VR headset, any type of content imaginable is suddenly 3-D, alive, and interactive. Merge Cube recently announced developer kits, and this one-minute video does a pretty good job of explaining how it works:

The Merge Cube launches later this year and is expected to retail for only $20 as well (the goggles are
available now for $60). As far as the possibilities of what can be done with the cube, the uses so far run the gamut, from educational uses and games to caring for a virtual pet. Dreitser pointed out that perhaps in the future, companies will present product demos using the Merge Cube, instead of more static mediums like Powerpoint.


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Baltimore’s Balti Virtual created HoloTats, augmented reality temporary tattoos that interact with a free mobile app. The result is a tattoo that suddenly animates and makes sound effects, delighting users of all ages.

While this is obviously a more simple use of AR tech, the wow-factor is pretty high, especially for kids. HoloTats are available and prices range from $5 to $6 per pack before shipping. This is one of those products where it’s hard not to imagine how it could be turned into a marketing tool, such as a product logo dancing around—but we’ll keep our business goggles off for now and just enjoy the unadulterated fun that these AR toys are delivering.