Imagine if someone pointed their phone at your T-shirt and, all of a sudden, you were decked out in a Miami Heat jersey, shooting free throws with Dwayne and Lebron. Or perhaps, wielding a sword and slaying a fantastical beast in a Game of Thrones-esque battle.
Wait. Can this kind of stuff happen in reality? Yes. Well sort of; it happens in augmented reality, people.
Confused? So were we. So we sat down with Miami-based Brian Rosendahl, a key player in the emerging field of augmented reality technology. Among other things that blew our minds, we learned about his latest endeavor: Visualitee, an online marketplace for augmented reality merchandise. Basically, it will sell t-shirts and other items that, when triggered by a computer or smartphone camera, create the aforementioned experiences on-screen.
And you think your clothes say a lot about you. Hah.
Cultist: What is augmented reality? Pretend you're reading the first few lines of "The Idiot's Guide to Augmented Reality." Because we're idiots.
Brian Rosendahl: It's OK. There's a lot of people that don't really know what it is yet. Here's a good example: one of the first augmented reality projects ever was the yellow lines that appear on a football field on TV to indicate yards gained.
Ohhhh, OK! (lightbulb clicks on above head)
Basically what augmented reality is: it takes something natural that a camera sees, and applies a graphic overlay to it. The video camera reads the live action: the room you're in, the t-shirt you're wearing, or anything like that, and the computer that is attached to that camera provides a graphic overlay. However, augmented reality is extremely broad and people are doing a lot of things with it.
(Rosendahl struggles for a moment to put the idea into Idiot Language)
Most basically, it's taking the concept of QR code up a notch. You know what a QR code is, right?
Yes I do, sir. (sighs with relief)
The thing with a QR code is that it's a definite call to action; when you see it, you know what to do with it. However, it's boring and black and white and ugly. Now, augmented reality allows us to look at any image, any logo, any picture, and make that a trigger for something to happen on-screen, whether it's on a computer or a mobile device.
Got it. Now, what exactly does Visualitee do?
Visualitee is going to be an e-commerce site dedicated to all augmented reality merchandise from any vendor. T-shirts, backpacks, posters, stickers -- when you go to that site, you will be able to find it.
I've done a lot of homework on this, and retailers are starting to adopt into [the augmented reality business]. Now, we feel that our advantage on the Web is that we can show exactly what each item can do. They're never going to have that ability at Macy's. They're never going to invest in the technology setup necessary -- cameras, flat-screen TVs -- to sell a T-shirt. We can do that easily online.
What's more, we're going to have it all. If it's an augmented reality item, we will have it.
So which comes first, the T-shirt design or the augmented reality? This is a chicken-or-the-egg kinda question.
Honestly, it can be either-or. When it comes to the shirt, there isn't anything special about the ink, or the print; it just has to be something of high-contrast so that we can trigger it. We can start with a t-shirt, and apply an augmented reality experience to it, or create them both together with a concept from scratch.
On our site there will be a lot of generic designs. For example, a Guitar Hero-esque game which, when triggered, will overlay a graphic that makes you look like you're holding a Fender Stratocaster, and you can actually play it, take a photo, and send that to your friends or post it to Facebook.
The social sharing is a big aspect of the augmented reality concept, especially with the t-shirts. Someone who is going to buy a t-shirt and have a specific experience, is going to want to share it with someone else. We're looking into a lot of possible ventures with different companies, because there are a lot of marketing possibilities with this concept.
The augmented reality T-shirt concept is so new that we could barely find anything on YouTube. But here you can watch some folks playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with their shirt. And losing.
So you'd say that this is more an exploration in technology than, say, fashion.
(Laughs) I guess a little bit of both. On the design and brand side, it's going to be diverse. For example, we're going to have a lot of Disney stuff on our site. Disney is a nice, big name, and it's a brand that's going to attract attention to the site.
But, we will also offer t-shirt experiences for smaller brands that people probably won't have heard about. And actually, our Kickstarter project is specifically aimed at raising money for artist-centered projects. We want to give artists the opportunity to design a t-shirt, and we'll create the shirt and an experience to go with it, and sell it on our site nationally. So it's a really cool way to get an artist exposure and put something unique on our site that's not just an average brand.
So pretty much you're creating a world in which the clothing is cooler than the people wearing it.
(Laughs) Well, I didn't exactly say that.....
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Obviously you know what you're talking about. So what's your favorite "techie" thing of the moment?
I'm just fascinated with augmented reality. I sell this technology to companies, and I have never been to one meeting in which I'm giving a sales presentation to two or three people and they don't leave the room and bring back more people, because it's just so interesting. We can make a rocket launch out of your business card. We can make any of your company's materials do anything. And people are just starting to discover it.
What about the Google glasses? What's up with that?
The Google glasses are gonna be very cool. I wonder how they are going to pull that off anytime soon, but it's an interesting project. And Google glasses would be unbelievable for augmented reality, because now you won't even need your mobile phone to look at augmented reality; you can just see it through your glasses.
Act now or be stuck in the boring, non-animated fashions of 10 minutes ago. If you "like" Visualitee's Facebook page, you'll have first dibs on Visualitee merch and be privy to special offers before the site even launches. You can also show some support and get special goodies on its Kickstarter page.