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York University professor discusses possibilities of augmented reality

Caitlin Fisher, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture and Director of the Augmented Reality Lab at York University gave a lecture entitled "Building small worlds" Tuesday evening in Hyde Hall. Augmented reality involves overlaying digital images on the real world. "Augmented reality is a magical technology where the rules haven't been written yet. Augmented reality is important because it uses digital tools but the real world still matters," Caitlin said. During the lecture she showed clips of various projects that she and her students have done and talked about projects that they are currently working on. She emphasized the potential for augmented reality in relation to other academic disciplines and the importance of having creative people who have stories to tell.

Caitlin Fisher wonders what it would be like if books came alive.

Fisher, director of the Augmented Reality Lab at York University in Toronto, gave a lecture Tuesday on how new technology is making this a “virtual” reality.

She experiments with augmented reality, or “AR,” which inserts digital images on top of live video images.

A program recognizes a specific design being captured by the video, and then places the new image on top of that design.

For instance, a person could take a video of another person with their iPhone. While the video is recording, the program could then place a cat in the person’s empty arms.

Limitless in its applications, Fisher said she uses augmented reality as a creative tool.

“It allows storytellers to be able to tell their stories spatially,” she told a small crowd of about 15 people in Hyde Hall.

Fisher said the technology can enrich everything from poetry to short stories, citing a children’s book that sends bugs crawling over the reader’s hands and arms.

Through augmented reality, she yearns to bridge the gap between the humanities and computer science, Fisher said.

“This is a tool for non-programmers with stories to tell,” she said.

But many attendees were programmers, interested in a way to apply their studies.

“I heard this would have less focus on tech and more on application,” said Jared Heinly, a computer science graduate student.

“I want a feel for what people are actually doing in the industry,” he said.

Fisher said her lab did not invent the technology, and a $250 million university investment allows her to experiment with it.

While currently popular, Fisher admits that sustaining a market for augmented reality will be difficult.

“It’s a novelty and we may fall out of amazement,” she said.

But this doesn’t seem to bother her.

“The point is not to make us rich,” she said.

Laurel Foote-Hudson, a comparative literature masters student who attended the lecture, was inspired by the potential of augmented reality.

“This will give storytelling an immersive visual experience,” Foote-Hudson said.

But Fisher said to her the technology is much more.

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“The physical world exists, but there should be a reason why it matters,” she said.

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