Dec 13, 2019

Augmented Reality is the New Buzzword at IAAPA Expo

Post by 
Heather Gallagher

Augmented Reality is the New Buzzword at IAAPA Expo

IAAPA is the leading attractions convention in the world

The International Association of Amusements Parks and Attractions Expo (IAAPA) is attended by 42,600 attendees and 1,146 exhibitors. It is where every amusement park, themepark, waterpark, family entertainment center (FEC), zoo, aquarium, and park comes to learn and shop.

In November I attended IAAPA for the first time to give a keynote about Enklu at the XR Summit at IAAPA, hosted by Bob Cooney and Greenlight Insights - a research company that provides market intelligence on the virtual reality and augmented reality markets.

As I walked the 9+ miles of showroom - basically a 14-acre amusement mash-up - I was glad for the 19 years I spent producing Burning Man. Walking the streets of Black Rock City is about as close as one can come to the colorful diversity of exhibits at IAAPA. I saw everything from deep-fat fryers and trash cans, to roller coaster engineers, to bouncy castles, to a booth where I could have bought my own blimp!

I came to learn about the state of augmented reality attractions 

The attractions industry has seen growing adoption of VR for years (albeit across a spectrum of quality), but high-end AR attractions have yet to take off. As Enklu ventures into the space, I was there to build early relationships with Family Entertainment Centers (FECs), agencies, and other potential collaborators and customers.

Enklu has two augmented reality products in development for the amusements industry. One is a set of immersive AR experiences that will provide fresh and innovative content for FECs, traveling amusement tours and pop-ups. For an idea of what we create, check out Enklu’s The Unreal Garden at E3 in 2019.

The second attraction is the Enklu Reveal, which is an interactive display and viewer that generates a real-time reflection of mixed reality worlds. The Reveal can digitally augment people or the surrounding environment with limitless possibilities.

According to BusinessWire, the global amusements market is anticipated to grow to $652.6 billion by 2022. To keep up with trends and ride market increases, they recommend that the industry use digital technologies to enhance user experience and maximize reach. From what I saw, they are doing just that. One speaker said that 2 years ago there were only 2 VR related booths. This year, there were too many to count, including multi-level play experiences, VR ride simulators, and I even used VR to preview what it would be like to ride in my own blimp.

Augmented reality was on the rise at IAAPA 2019

Almost every attraction designer listed augmented reality as one of their offerings. Several amusements featured AR as part of their game dynamics, and a handful of photo booths had some basic AR elements in their mix. I investigated all of them, but none were like the high-quality, high-throughput, socially connective experiences which I have become accustomed to working with Enklu.

In the augmented reality attractions made by Enklu, players are immersed in stunning holographic worlds. They can ‘touch’ and playfully interact with the holograms, popping bubbles or fingerpainting, and they can see their friends doing the same, often combined with multi-player game mechanics. This interactivity is made possible by our software platform and the Microsoft HoloLens. More dynamic interplay, like ‘grasping’ and ‘moving’ objects, will be possible with our new fleet of HoloLens2.

There are a lot of different interpretations of augmented reality

When asked about their use of AR, an attraction designer at one booth told me…”Well, that’s really more of a marketing term than anything.” I don’t agree, but the term has been applied to a diverse set of technologies. A number of groups were featuring what I would call ‘Projection AR’, where projectors are used to display multi-dimensional images onto surfaces ranging from topographic sandboxes, slanted glass tables, or even the spray of water from a water effect. These are the next generation of interactive video more than interactive augmented experiences.

A few games, such as those by Valo Motion, include AR in physical movement attractions. They use projection AR to highlight a path up a climbing wall, and in another use motion tracking to create an animated ‘game world’ representation of a player on a screen while they were bouncing on a trampoline.

And then, there were the photo booths, these tend to offer the usual AR snapchat filters such as flower crowns and bunny ears. In a few others like FOTO MASTER and HeroMirror by Indestry, they show a video of a character or a person who comes onto screen and strikes a pose, while the user positions themselves so it looks like they are posing together for a photo. These can be fun for fans, though it takes a few tries to get the positioning just right. I was a bit surprised to see that these effects are pretty basic compared to the interactive and dazzling animations that we feature on the Enklu Reveal. Like giving you the ability to shoot massive energy effects out of your hands, or inspiring you to dance around with beautiful wings in a magical scene.

Augmented Reality is on the rise, but it may come with confusion

The good news is that augmented reality is emerging in the amusements scene, we are just scratching the surface of the possible uses for it, and we will see more of it used in fun and helpful ways. The challenging news is that there are so many different technologies and applications being labeled as ‘augmented reality’, that it may confuse users, buyers and creators to know what it is, how to do it, when to use it, and where to implement it into their attractions. What do you think? What should be called augmented reality these days? How would you incorporate it into an amusement park or an arcade? Will our future playmates be holograms?