Local company says augmented reality has many uses

Visitors to the new Angry Birds Space Encounter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center may not know it, but a Phelps County man had a hand in one of the exhibits.

Kirk Nash, president of Nash Immersive Inc., used a type of technology known as augmented reality, in which visitors search for Angry Birds in the “Danger One” mirror maze at the attraction in Florida.

Augmented reality (AR) refers to a live, and either direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

With the help of advanced AR technology, such as adding computer vision and object recognition, the information about the surrounding real world of people becomes interactive and can be digitally manipulated. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world.

At the center, the goal of the maze, in which all of the walls are mirrors, is for people to find Angry Birds. Participants wear lanyards with an Angry Birds image that is surrounded by a black border.

At a few places in the maze, there are cameras that shoot through a small hole in the mirrors and recognize the image on the lanyard. Then visitors can see a three-dimensional version of an Angry Bird in the mirror.

Nash said there could be some possible changes coming in how the cameras recognize sensors in the maze.

“It was cool to see something I did actually at the Kennedy Space Center,” Nash said, noting that he also likes Angry Birds.

Nash got involved in the exhibit after demonstrating AR technology with Atlanta-based customer activation company, edg (Entertainment Design Group, Inc.) and Rovio, the creator of the Angry Birds franchise.

However, the opportunities that augmented reality can provide go much further than Angry Birds.

For instance, one practical application of the technology is business cards with a QR code on them that when scanned by a mobile device or tablet will reveal virtual buttons or links to an individual’s or company’s website or social media page. A QR (Quick Response) code is a type of matrix bar code or two-dimensional bar code that when scanned can link to something else.

Augmented reality technology also can be used in trade shows and live events. Instead of a company bringing in a large vehicle or equipment to show, which can be costly, sensors can be set up to allow visitors to scan an area with their mobile devices or tablets and see a virtual vehicle or piece of equipment as well as interactive and manipulable information.

The technology could also be used on T-shirts, actors’ headshots, thank-you cards from weddings or in other ways, but whatever the use, Nash wants to make the possibilities inexpensive.

While augmented reality is new to many in the United States, it is well known and has been used in Europe and Japan, Nash noted.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface of augmented reality,” Nash said. “It will redefine how we communicate.”

Nash said he also has tested augmented reality technology at the Science Center in St. Louis, and added that there are educational possibilities with AR, too.

At a Rolla High School art class, during a presentation on animation, Nash also briefly discussed augmented reality and “they were entranced by it.”

Nash worked in the animation industry but has more recently become involved with augmented reality. Nash’s former business was called Creative Digital Images, but he changed the name to Nash Immersive around February of this year.

“I always said a picture is worth a thousand words and a 30-second animation is 1,000 pictures, so you do the math,” Nash said of animation.

Nash has lived south of Rolla for about four years.