Today’s Display Daily provides a product review of an augmented reality book for children developed by Popar Toys (Tempe, AZ). The product debuted at the New York Toy Fair on February 12th, but we received an advanced copy of the Popar starter kit to review. Below are both a text review and a video review of the product that we put together.
The technology behind this educational tool is not new - it has just been applied as a means of creating a novel and fun way to learn. The idea is to embed certain patterns in the book that can be read by a webcam positioned with a clear view of the entire book. Once identified by the software, an animation is activated that is visible on the PC monitor. This shows the same book but now with an animation running over it that illustrates the concept on the page. In addition, an "iCard" (a separate card with a special mark) can be used with the book to activate an audio track for each page. Don’t want to use the book anymore? The starter kit also comes with over a dozen cards that also contain marks to active mini animations visible on the monitor.
The starter kit comes with a webcam, DVD, books and pack of cards. Coming soon are several more books on numbers, letters, desert animals, dinosaurs and farm animals.
Set up was easy. The webcam was immediately recognized and the DVD offered an autoplay function once inserted into the drive, initiating a screen that includes a video on how the books and cards work. Remember, this is aimed mainly at younger students, so it needs to be easy and intuitive to run it.
Once we started the game, we received a pop-up asking about the video codec we were using. This probably won’t happen on most kids’ machines.
We first mounted the clip on webcam to the top of the monitor and aimed it to capture the space directly in front of the monitor, where we placed the book. This worked, but it was difficult to position the book to see the entire 2 pages and initiate the virtual animation. The problem is the field of view of this clip-on webcam - it is too narrow. This also makes the use of embedded webcams not very practical.
As a result, we placed it on a lamp shade in back of the monitor so it was higher and covered a larger area on the desktop. This worked a lot better, but this also created some issues. For example, placing the book flat on the desktop worked, but lifting the front of the book upwards, improved capture. This makes it more difficult to read the book. In addition, the image on the monitor is inverter so the book cannot be read on the monitor.
It seems that maybe the best position for the webcam is in back of and above the reader for an over-the-shoulder view of the book. This would create a good field of view, the child could hold the book in a normal manner and the webcam, including the words and the animated image on the monitor, would be in the correct orientation. However, this makes for a much more complex set up, so it may be impractical.
The most reasonable solution may then be a downward looking document camera with a good field of view. Many classrooms will already have such a device, making the use of the augmented reality books in schools a fairly simple option. This is more problematic for home use, however.
To see what a real potential user of these books thought, I invited my seven year old niece to give it a try. She loved it, thinking it was "cool" and "fun." Would she like to see more books like this? Yes, she said enthusiastically, and then suggested several topics for the company to consider (which were pretty close to ones highlighted above).
In conclusion, we see the application of technologies like this to enhance learning as a good move. Popar has done a good job in making the solution simple to use and it seems to be creating books that will have appeal with their younger audience. The implementation was the only issue we had with the product. But, this is a first generation solution, so I suspect second and third generation systems will improve on the user interface and ease of use. -Chris Chinnock