57° North – an interactive AR storybook for the Merge Cube

News of an interactive AR storybook for the Merge Cube caught our eye. As a square piece of foam, the Cube is a platform to host low-cost, simple Augmented Reality experiences with a Smartphone.

Merge Cube AR Block of Foam
The Merge Cube – a $15 block of squishy foam that wants to be a platform for Augmented Reality experiences.

But we confess: we’ve had the Merge Cube sitting around the Digital Bodies workspace for some time, but seldom use it. It seemed like a great idea when we purchased it, but the available experiences are limited and often require an additional fee.

Worse, you have to search for the content as separate items in the App Store. Marketing advice 101 to immersive tech vendors: put your content in one place where people can find it.

You won’t find much use for this AR device in Higher Education. It’s designed for the K-12 market, and for those looking for a quick taste of what Augmented Reality might offer.

But for teachers who want to experiment with simple, low-cost AR in the early grades, it doesn’t get much easier than this You can drop it, throw it, step on it, and your Smartphone never fails to recognize it.

Wish we could say that about all emerging technology. 

Interactive AR Storybook

So it seemed to us that a lack of content had sunk another promising Augmented Reality idea. Until 57° North came along. A project from the Austin-based 3-D VFX and animation studio, Mighty Coconut, the work is complex hour-long interactive storybook. On many levels, it’s fascinating.

Don’t get us wrong, you’re not about to see Merge Cubes showing up in high-end science labs or literature programs, but it’s an innovate take on AR storytelling. To see what we mean, check out the trailer:

What’s especially intriguing here is the way the Augmented Reality choices are integrated into the device. Depending on which way you turn the Cube, the story moves off in different directions. Which means that it’s actually a story with multiple outcomes. Or multiple stories.

AR may not put you at the center of a story in the way that Virtual Reality does, but it can be just as interactive. Perhaps even more so, as you feel you have agency in manipulating both the real and virtual worlds.

AR Storybook for the Merge Cube

Upgrades are Relative

While this might be a major upgrade for the Merge cube, it doesn’t begin to tap into the depth of what an AR storybook can do (should we even refer to it as a book?) in the future. Or come close to the holographic capabilities of a Mixed Reality device like the Meta 2 Glasses.

[Update (Jan. 23, 2020): Meta 2 Glasses may or may not return, but the Magic Leap One offers significant potential in the Mixed Reality Space.]

But it’s worth checking out, and essential if you are educating teachers or working in the K-6 environment. It’s only $15 for the Cube and $2.99 more to download the AR Storybook on your phone.

Once we dusted off our device and started the 57° North interactive story, you can guess what question kept crossing our mind. For the next generation of kids who grow up with AR storytelling and interactive devices, how will they survive if Higher Education cannot give up its fixation on the static text? Think about it. In a few years, this will be their baseline technology.

Time to flip the Cube of learning over and see what happens. With all the developments in immersive technology, we too are living a story with multiple endings.

And if we don’t innovative, the ending’s not going to be a happy one.

2 thoughts on “57° North – an interactive AR storybook for the Merge Cube”

  1. I am also convinced that AR/VR has a significant role to play in higher education. Last Christmas I bought myself a Merge Cube but left it in the box due to the lack of content available. Seeing your example of the user-generated story outcome, I can see that this could be used for a business planning course or in healthcare where the user can actively see what the outcome would be based on various decisions being made. Will go and take mine out of the box now!

    • Completely agree. We were intrigued by the Merge Cube when we got it, but it ended up gathering dust from lack of content. The 57° Degree North is a major step toward turning it into an innovative storytelling device. And your insight is great – it could be used in business planning or healthcare. It’s just a hint of what’s to come as AR takes off.

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