Project Mirage: Augmented Reality Maze

During the summer portion of my graduate program, we were given the task of exploring an area of technology we were curious about, but had not had the opportunity to research.  The technology I chose to delve into was augmented reality, the idea of having our normal everyday lives improved by an overlay of data.

Currently, augmented reality tends to be used in one of two major ways.  The first major use is usually information distribution such as flashy advertisements or smartphone applications that show your location in relation to a tourist spot or subway entrance.  The second major area you see augmented reality is in experimental or artistic projects.  In this type of situation, augmented reality often takes the form of  3D models that are either tied to a symbol or GPS coordinates.  Then once a device, such as a smartphone, recognizes the symbol or location, the 3D model is generated for all to see.  A rare, interactive example that falls into this second category is Dr. Adrian Cheok’s Human Pacman, an augmented reality game that allowed players to take on the role of Pacman as they ran and moved through their everyday surroundings.

Seeing the work of Adrian Cheok and certain other projects, I really wanted to test the capabilities of this particular technology by instead of just having small objects appear on paper or allow people to view a structure from afar, I wanted the structure to be interactive in some way.  This is when I hit upon the idea of building a maze.  I loved the idea of having an invisible maze, a selective mirage that was only viewable through a special device.

Aerial view of first maze layout.

Aerial view of first maze layout.

With the idea planned out, I built my first in a series of mazes using an architectural design program known as Sketchup.  From there, testing began on trying to view and walk through the maze using Sketchup’s augmented reality smartphone application.  Why a smartphone when there are potentially other devices that would be more precise for this kind of spacial work?  I wanted the experience to be available to as many as possible, so I intended to limit myself to something a large population of users would already have, a smartphone.  At first, prospects were dim as the GPS for the program and device were so vague that the maze would not stand still, often hopping about the area or staying a set distance away from the user.

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Aerial view of the final maze build.

While working and refining the coordinates, settings, and other features in the program, I began to adjust my original concept for the maze.  At first my maze was built to be difficult, more of a labyrinth of confusion instead of a fun adventure.  However, as I talked with people and redesigned my maze in hopes of trying to make it easier for the smartphone application to handle, this aspect of the project changed.  I did not want my players to have to deal with confusion or struggle with moving beyond a particular section.  These people would be voluntarily playing the game, a game with boundaries and rules, my maze’s walls, that were so thin they could easily get frustrated and just storm through to the exit.  I needed to find a compromise between difficult and pathfinding.

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One of the maze’s man landmarks.

The final version of the maze has a number of features that help players set mental checkpoints.  These can be as simple as a cog on a wall or a pipe overhead giving players landmarks to guide themselves through the maze.  Furthermore, several statues have been placed at key intersections that subtly direct the player down a specific path based on the number of gems in its hands.  This last version of the project still qualifies as a maze, but also acts as more of a museum tour with off shoots with interesting rooms and statues.

The maze itself was a success and I was able to briefly walk about and explore my work.  However, if I were to redo the project I would probably see if I could use a device other than a smartphone or see if there was a way to place markers in key locations to fix the maze in a single location.

Below are some of the pictures from a successful run of the final maze build:

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One of the statues in a side area.

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Had to duck otherwise the wall would cover my face

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This statue and the other assets were first built in Maya then transferred to Sketchup. It was quite amusing to explore using my Maya skills to make my maze pleasing to explore.

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