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.
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.
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.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.