Find an Escape in Augmented Reality

Find an Escape in Augmented Reality

As I am wrapping up the final edits of this column, Ohio’s “stay at home” order was extended until May 1. Depending on when you are reading this and how the COVID-19 virus has spread, we could soon be allowed to leave our homes, or we could be looking at another few days or even another few months of social distancing and life in quarantine.

We all could use a much-needed escape from reality.

I can’t provide you with a flight to a tropical, COVID-free island. But I can offer up some technology to enhance the reality we are continuing to deal with: augmented reality.

Virtual reality and augmented reality have some similarities, but they are unique in their own right. Virtual reality (VR) is something that occurs entirely in a digital space. VR requires a headset or glasses to display a scene, room or world that has been generated by a computer. Augmented reality (AR) takes a different approach. AR is a technology-enhanced version of reality. A computer uses specialized software and a camera to superimpose images onto the real world. We’re going to be looking at apps for your smartphone or tablet that might offer an escape for a few hours through the power of augmented reality. 

Crayola Color Alive
Your children may have found a new love of coloring and drawing during the stay at home order. Crayola’s Color Alive series takes coloring to a whole new level. Kids start by coloring a picture of their favorite superhero, princess, magical animal, etc. Next, Crayola brings the image to life through augmented reality via the Color Alive app. There are a few downloadable pages on Crayola’s site, but you’ll need to purchase a coloring book from their website if your kids want more than what is available for free. 

Smash Tanks
Smash Tanks brings a fictional tank battle to your kitchen table, your backyard, or the middle of your living room floor. Missiles fly and buildings topple to the ground in the augmented reality-based game. Start by using your camera to determine the real world location of the assault. Then, players use their fingers to pull back and aim the tanks and launch their projectiles. You will have to physically move around to see behind buildings or around trees. You can easily blow an afternoon playing alone or against a friend. The app is only available on Apple devices, but there are similar versions available for Android devices, as well. 

Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
The wildly successful Angry Birds franchise is back again. The game mechanics have not changed much. You’re still launching birds into various structures covered in little green piggies. In this installment, though, the game takes place in the real world. You look around your physical location using your phone’s camera to place each level. With the level set, a bird is loaded into your virtual slingshot, and you pull back with your finger to release it. The augmented reality allows you to move around the structure and shoot the feathered missiles from any side or angle that you wish. The twist on this mobile favorite makes Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs worth the download.  

Ikea Place
Augmented reality can be used for far more than just playing games. The Ikea Place app allows you to place virtual exact-to-scale furniture in your house to see how it would look. For example, you can place a virtual loveseat in your existing living room to determine if it matches your vision for the room. The tablet or smartphone app lets you move the furniture around the room in real-time. Designers (that’s you) can add multiple items at once, such as a lamp, end table, and sofa. You can easily spend a few hours browsing the IKEA collections, placing pieces, and reimagining your whole house. The app is free and works for both Apple and Android, so there’s no reason not to give it a try. Houzz is a similar app for interior design that does not rely on just IKEA’s catalog of home goods. 

Wanna Kicks
This is much like IKEA Place or Houzz, but for your feet. Wanna Kicks lets you see your feet in a pair of sneakers. You choose the brand and the colors. Next, hold your feet out in front of your smartphone’s camera, and the app will place the shoes on your feet. You cannot get a sense of how they feel to walk in, but you will be able to see if you like the way they look. If you are more into tattoos than shoes, you can check out InkHunter. It offers the same options as Wanna Kicks, but for tattoos. 

This app takes a different approach to augmented reality. Holo lets you add holograms of real people and animals into the world around you. You can then take photos & videos to share with friends. Similar to other AR apps, once you place a hologram into the world, you can walk around and see it from all angles as if it was standing in the room with you. Characters are life-sized, but you have the option of enlarging or shrinking them with your thumbs. The app includes dogs, a man in a gorilla costume, Einstein, and some social media personalities. A word of caution, though: not all the holograms are appropriate for children.  

I hope the apps listed above provide you and your children a bit of excitement and a break from the boredom. Stay healthy. Stay safe.


Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the director of technology for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School district in Northeast Ohio. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.