The combination of Augmented Reality with print publishing is an area that we at WORKSHOP 3D are very excited about. In fact, the publication of an Augmented Reality supported book, CoCA pop-up (AR)t that I published for Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art, was the precursor to and in many ways the impetus for the formation of the company, and it’s an application in which we remain vitally interested.
So when the NASA AR Notebook recently came to my attention, I quickly ordered my copy, and am happy to share what I found when it arrived.
As a connoisseur of books, I was not let down by the physical product. The first thing you see when you open the package is a well-constructed black box that keeps your NASA AR Notebook safe both during shipping and on your shelf. Not quite museum quality, but for thirty bucks, it’s a nice package.
When I opened the box, I was once again elated at the beautifully embossed cover with bold red print. The notebook is available in white or silver, and I got mine in silver. Good choice, I think. It really looks like a NASA product. Also inside the box was a card with a QR code on it, which I scanned to download the AstroReality Explorer app that accompanies the NASA AR Notebook.
Just inside the front cover, I encountered my first Augmented Reality experience. There wasn’t anything there to tell me I should scan it, but I did anyway, and boy am I glad I did. It’s the clear highlight of the book, from an A.R. perspective. When the inside front cover is scanned, as shown above, the solar system springs to life in Augmented Reality, better illustrated in the image at the top of this page.
Initially, the sun is at the center, and all of the planets are rotating around it, and on their own axis. It’s a nice simulation. Planet labels can be toggled on and off with a button at the top of the screen. If you select an individual planet by tapping on it or selecting it from the slider at the bottom of the screen, it moves to front and center, and you can spin it by swiping. Additionally, some information is displayed about the length of its year, number of moons, distance from the sun, etc. This is the first time the design began to break down for me, a little.
If you look at the picture above, it appears that this information (the text above the button bar at the bottom) is on the screen, but it’s not. It’s in the Augmented Reality, attached to the book itself. That means that it’s only visible if you are looking at the planet from far enough away, and if you are looking at the book from a different direction, it might be sideways or upside down. In fact, I was having so much fun looking at the nicely detailed planets that I didn’t notice it at first. In mind, this information should be displayed in “screen space” not “book space”. Still, this interactive solar system is pretty cool.
The first page of the book itself contains a list of the planets, with a brief description of each. Since it was printed in the same silver-on-black as the inside front cover, I scanned it to see if there was any Augmented Reality attached. There isn’t.
A few pages in, there is another printed page, entitled “Key Moments in NASA History”, which does in fact contain brief descriptions of each decade in NASA’s history. Unlike the inside cover, this page did contain a note at the bottom to scan it with the AstroReality Explorer app.
When you scan this page, the text and image on the page change in the camera view of the book to present a specific key moment in NASA history. There is scrollable timeline and forward and back buttons on screen that allow you to move between the 54 individual “pages” that are presented here. Again, unfortunately, the image above (from AstroReality’s website) is somewhat misleading. The page appears in the A.R. “book space” rather than in “screen space”.
While it’s a cool trick to pack 54 pages of content into basically a blank book (saved on printing costs, I’ll bet), ultimately I found it unsatisfying. Imagine reading a book by looking at it through the camera on your phone rather than directly with your own eyes. Again, I would rather these just be on my screen rather than in the Augmented Reality. The same exact timeline and button controls would work perfectly well, the resolution would be better, and I wouldn’t have to hold the phone aimed at the book the whole time. I think this is a situation where the desire to utilize A.R. technology got in the way of presenting the content, and neither are well served.
All in all though, it’s a beautiful book, a great sketchbook, and it does contain one worthwhile Augmented Reality experience, so I give it a provisional thumbs up. I am very happy to see experimentation with print and Augmented Reality like this happening, and we will continue to promote them and create our own, perhaps with you!