Aug 7, 2017 | By Tess

Interactive rides at Disney’s amusement parks could soon get a whole lot more interesting thanks to a recent augmented reality project unveiled by Disney Research. Called the Magic Bench, the project lets users become a part of a mixed reality experience without the need for a mobile device or headset.

In its current form, Disney’s AR technology consists of a room with a bench at the center of it. The room is equipped with various color and depth sensors which are used to reconstruct the environment and its occupants digitally. These sensors make it possible to insert virtual characters into the scene and have them interact with the user. A large display screen at the front of the room lets the user visualize the mixed reality (MR) environment.

There are a few things that make Disney’s Magic Bench technology very exciting. For one, the technology is one of the first to demonstrate multi-user AR/MR interactions. Currently, most augmented reality experiences rely on the user having a handheld or head-mounted device, which means the experience is “user specific.”

Disney says that it has created a “solution for multi-user interactions in AR/MR, where a group can share the same augmented environment with any computer generated (CG) asset and interact in a shared story sequence through a third-person POV. [Its] approach is to instrument the environment leaving the user unburdened of any equipment, creating a seamless walk-up-and-play experience.”

As the video demo shows, users can sit on the bench and watch themselves interact with various characters. In one example, a virtual elephant hands the user a ball; in another, a frog comments on the user trying to touch him.

More than just interacting visually, the Magic Bench technology also has haptic qualities which make the augmented reality experience feel more real. That is, under the physical bench is a complex array of actuators that give haptic feedback depending on the movements of the virtual character. In other words, the user can actually feel the virtual character’s weight on the bench, as well as hear sound effects.

In one demonstration, for instance, the user begins to feel raindrops falling on the bench, until he moves over to sit underneath an umbrella held by a humanoid giraffe. "This platform creates a multi-sensory immersive experience in which a group can interact directly with an animated character," explained Moshe Mahler, principal digital artist at Disney Research. "Our mantra for this project was: hear a character coming, see them enter the space, and feel them sit next to you.”

(Images: Disney Research)

Disney’s Magic Bench technology was recently demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2017, which wrapped up in Los Angeles last week.



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