• Switzerland edition
 
NEW TECHNOLOGY
Giant green worm stalks city park in augmented reality experiment
Jan Torpus & Robin Wenger 2011

Giant green worm stalks city park in augmented reality experiment

Published: 25 Nov 2011 15:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 25 Nov 2011 15:00 GMT+01:00

Strange fantasy animals invade Basel’s Sankt Johanns Park while the sky above becomes a multi-coloured canvas. Reporter Meritxell Mir is neither dreaming nor on drugs; she's just participating in a pioneering new project.

Using the name lifeClipper3, researchers at the Institute for Research in Art and Design in Basel have created a film-like immersive experience that mixes the real world with virtual reality.

Led by Swiss design researcher Jan Torpus, this outdoor walking experiment brings virtual elements to the landscape of Sankt Johanns Park on the banks of the Rhine. With the help of special equipment, users undergo an experience that changes character depending on the direction they take, what they look at, or even how they breathe.

As the user walks through the park, the grass turns into a desert, fish-like animals fly through the air, and lying in the middle of the meadow is a huge green worm into whose mouth participants can enter.

“It always makes me happy when people don’t know if something is real or not,” says Torpus.

“I want to take people out of what they take for granted. It’s like the Matrix idea that behind all you see around you, there is something that is reality.”

The dual experience of being in the park but feeling you are part of a movie is possible thanks to a sophisticated equipment set-up. It involves a laptop, a GPS receiver to locate the user, a video camera, a head-mounted display with goggles, 3D surround-sound headphones, a vision sensor that determines where the user is looking, and a biofeedback sensor that measures the user’s breathing.

A total of five software programs run at the same time, continually communicating with each other and allowing the user to interact with the park by means of position, vision and breathing.

The creators of lifeClipper3 scanned the whole park with an infrared camera before making a 3D model on a 1:1 scale, but overlapping the two datasets was tricky.

“The most difficult part was that the real and the virtual spaces always had to coincide, which is almost impossible,” says Torpus, who led a multidisciplinary team of engineers, IT specialists, musicians and new media artists.

And what’s the aim of such a creative and seemingly bizarre project? Torpus says that lifeClipper3 exists somewhere between art and research. It enables experimentation with new media design, but it also facilitates the examination of human perception and emotions in situations where people are taken away from their everyday lives and thrust into an augmented reality.

Torpus also believes that, like all new art forms, it will take time for augmented reality to be accepted.

“It’s like cinema. At the beginning no one respected it as art; it was just a new technical discovery, but today it is [art],” says Torpus.

But there are stumbling blocks. Often users have struggled to understand what they are viewing through the goggles or just can’t immerse themselves fully in the adventure.

“lifeClipper3 goes too far sometimes,” agrees Torpus, who insists that this element is part of the research project, which is not open to the public.

He adds that the experience does not work for people when scenes, elements or tricks stray too far from cultural norms or the best-known natural laws, or are too far divorced from the type of media literacy garnered from films or video games.

“The continuum between real and virtual is very different [from other experiences people may have had] because you don’t have that in movies or video games,” he explains. The trick is to avoid virtual unreality by finding a balance that allows users to fully immerse themselves in the scene to such an extent that they no longer know if what they are seeing or experiencing is real or virtual.

The equipment also needs to become less invasive. Carrying around 10 kilos of gear on your back gets tiring, while the head-mounted display offers limited vision. In order to avoid tripping or running into people, benches or trees, Torpus acts as a sort of Sherpa, a reminder to users that they are, after all, still in the real world.

lifeClipper 3 is the last of a series of augmented reality projects Jan Torpus has worked with for the last eight years. The two previous experiments dealt with the past and the future of the city of Basel. The projects were not unlike the plot of the novel ‘Virtual Light’ by famed American author William Gibson, with Basel stepping in for San Francisco. Torpus says they were better understood by participants because they were closer to their everyday lives.

Although Torpus admits it could be years before the new technology enjoys widespread use, he is confident of an eventual breakthrough.

“lifeClipper is the first sketch for a new medium,” he says. 

“These could be the immersive movies of tomorrow”.

Meritxell Mir (news@thelocal.ch)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Vote set for ban on food trading 'speculation'
Photo: Michael Buholzer

Vote set for ban on food trading 'speculation'

The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said on Wednesday, announcing that organizers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum. READ () »

Tweet exposes Iran trip by right-wing Swiss MPs
Swiss People's Party MP Luzi Stamm. Photo: Federal Parliament

Tweet exposes Iran trip by right-wing Swiss MPs

Six members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) wanted to discreetly visit Iran without publicity last week but one of them inadvertently made the trip public in a tweet. 
 READ () »

Armadillo and crocodile meat seized at border
"Bush meat" seized by customs agents. Photo: Federal Customs Administration

Armadillo and crocodile meat seized at border

A Frenchman living in Switzerland was caught entering the country from France with unusual contraband in his suitcase: 16 kilograms of meat from exotic species native to the African jungle. READ () »

UN health agency hits back at vaccine foes
WHO headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Yann Forget

UN health agency hits back at vaccine foes

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) hit back on Wednesday against vaccine deniers who claim that immunization is pointless, risky and that the body is better off fighting disease unaided. READ () »

More protection sought for Lavaux vineyards
Photo: Malcolm Curtis/The Local

More protection sought for Lavaux vineyards

Voters in the canton of Vaud are set to go to the polls for a third time next month to decide on the future of Lavaux, the celebrated vineyard region east of Lausanne. READ () »

Zurich Insurance study warns of cyber risks
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Zurich Insurance study warns of cyber risks

Organizations must dramatically improve their response to cyber risks to avoid a new global shock on the scale of the financial crisis that rocked the world in 2008, a study from a Swiss-based insurer concludes. READ () »

Zurich inaugurates city's giant quartzite plaza
Image: Raumgleiter

Zurich inaugurates city's giant quartzite plaza

The city of Zurich inaugurated the largest plaza in Switzerland on Tuesday night after a 17.2-million-franc ($19.5-million) facelift. READ () »

Geneva minister revives cable car project
Urban cable cars in the French city of Grenoble. Photo: Bastille-Grenoble.com (DR)

Geneva minister revives cable car project

Cable cars — just like those used to carry skiers up mountain slopes — have re-emerged as a public transportation option in Geneva, where authorities are struggling to deal with road congestion. READ () »

Police chief casts doubt on Swiss cup final future
Stade de Suisse. Photo: Martin Abegglen

Police chief casts doubt on Swiss cup final future

The final of the Swiss football cup may no longer be held in Bern after a police chief expressed his exasperation at clashes in the streets surrounding Monday’s final at the Stade de Suisse. READ () »

Swiss drink more homegrown wine
Consumption of Swiss wines within Switzerland rose by 10 percent in 2013. Photo; Caroline Bishop

Swiss drink more homegrown wine

After several years of decline, the Swiss are finally drinking more of their own wine. Consumption of Swiss wines within Switzerland rose by ten percent in 2013 to 107 million litres, according to figures released by the Federal Office of Agriculture (OFAG) on Tuesday. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Bern finds solution for Erasmus student exchange programme
National
Bern zoo faces animal cruelty charges over bear cub deaths
Society
Swiss alpine ski champion announces same-sex marriage
Features
Former industrial zone transforms into Zurich’s trendiest spot
Tech
Swiss Solar Impulse team shows off new fuel-free aircraft
International
Suspect in Liechtenstein bank CEO murder case 'likely dead'
Sponsored Article
Caveman comedy comes to Zurich in English
Society
Innovative building provides refuge for hypersensitive tenants
Tech
VIDEO: Teenage boy sends Swiss army knife into stratosphere
International
Switzerland ranks second in world for social progress: report
National
Pharrell Williams set to perform in first Montreux jazzfest concert
Sport
American wingsuit flyer dies after Bernese Oberland accident
Advertisement:
Business & Money
H&M plans hefty Swiss minimum wage for employees by 2015
International
Caterpillar accused by US senator of dodging taxes through 'Swiss plan'
International
Geneva man in Facebook page fight with Italian carmaker Ferrari
International
Schumacher’s wife pays for 'medical suite' at Swiss family mansion
International
Aborted Swiss airlines take-off injures four at London airport
International
Swiss refuse asylum request from topless protest group founder
Business & Money
British expat former banker to head Swiss finance regulator FINMA
National
Swiss honey contains harmful plastic: TV consumer affairs report
Business & Money
Luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe threatens Geneva exit over taxes
Business & Money
World's largest watch fair opens in Basel amid uncertain times
International
'Fergie' credits hikes around Verbier mountains for recent weight loss
Etoiles de Montagne
Sponsored Article
How to summer holiday up a Swiss mountain
Swissbenefits
Sponsored Article
How to avoid Switzerland’s tax haven trap
International
Switzerland's residents are the happiest in the OECD: report
Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,074
jobs available