ETC students explore possible uses of augmented reality

Credit: Tami Tedesco/ Credit: Tami Tedesco/

Popular cult movie series like The Terminator or Mission Impossible rely heavily on allowing their characters to gain extra information via super-vision gadgets, bionic contact lenses that analyze their environment and display updates to them as they interact with the real world. This idea of gaining or changing information as one perceives it is augmented reality (AR).

AR is the technology that layers the perceived world of a user with extra components that enhance their experience. It processes the world perceived by the user in real-time to add to or modify its components, such as adding visual or auditory elements. For example, Pokémon Go uses augmented real mapping to allow its users to catch Pokémon in the real world. Online dressing rooms for e-shopping sites and online make-up testers let users test products virtually using AR.

Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), which is a part of the Integrative Design, Arts and Technology (IDeATe) Network, has been studying interactive agents as a part of AR, and how AR differs from virtual reality. Drew Davidson, the director of ETC, said in a press release "Augmented reality is in some ways potentially more immersive than virtual reality … I think AR is opening up these new potential ways to think about and develop these [virtual reality] games."

Researchers at the ETC have been worked on two projects, namely MixAR and Everywhere Music. Both of these projects use Microsoft’s HoloLens, a self-contained, holographic computer, to execute AR.
MixAR [] uses an interactive agent, named Mixy. Mixy, a spherical robot that floats in the user’s reality, is supposed to have a strong emotional presence and was created with the intention of making users interact directly with the AR in a physical space and evoking emotional responses in the user. According to MixAr’s website, the team is interested in “learning where an agent can be most useful and where it simply gets in the way.”

Everywhere Music is an AR-Assisted Piano Improvisation tool allows users to ‘perform live with a band’, have interactive theory and piano lesson. Users access the AR via glasses that enable them to view a guiding keyboard over their own instrument, which they then follow.

Will Hagan, a student at the ETC and the producer for the MixAR team, says, "The power of AR isn't to radically change our lives, but to make us better at what we already can do." He continues, "Right now the field is truly in its infancy… Imagine a paramedic arriving at an accident with an augmented reality device that can provide all the vitals of an unconscious individual, saving them the moments they may need to prevent that person's death. Dramatic perhaps, but one of the best examples of how we could use augmented reality to improve our society right now."