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26 July 2017

Disney’s Magic Bench lets you play with AR characters without headset or smartphone

Disney Research has come up with a new way to allow multiple people to experience the same augmented reality experience while in the same room — without wearing a headset or holding a mobile device.  

The innovative approach to AR was revealed on Wednesday in the form of what Disney Research calls the Magic Bench. But the system is about more than just a “bench,” it’s an entire room that’s set up for virtual immersion in mixed reality. 

Using depth and color sensors from a Microsoft Kinect, the team was able to create a 3D reconstruction of the room’s scene, allowing real people and virtual characters to interact with each other in real time. 

People sitting on the bench can watch their own interactions with the virtual characters and effects on a massive display situated in front of the bench. 

But the immersive goes beyond the visual and bleeds into the realm of touch as well. Underneath the bench is an array of haptic actuators that correspond to the movements of the virtual character, giving the real person sitting on the bench the sense that a physical being with weight and impact is sharing the bench with them. 

This same haptic effect is used to simulate the feeling of raindrops falling on the bench. Paired with the haptic actuators are several speakers underneath the bench, which emit character and effect-specific sounds to heighten the sense of reality. 

The end result of the combined physical and software set-up is a real time AR experience that can accommodate as many people as the bench will fit. This seems like the perfect execution of AR for Disney’s amusement parks, but so far it’s just an experiment and proof of concept. 

However, anyone interested in trying it out will get a chance next week at Siggraph in Los Angeles, where the Magic Bench will be on display. 

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