France’s Total Immersion is positioning its augmented reality technology as an essential component of the next generation of entertainment and advertising. It is already being integrated into a new Mattel toy line based on Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming action adventure film “Avatar” and in sports trading cards sold by a company owned by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Click on “read more” to see the video and read the story.
U.S. toymaker Mattel previewed toys with Total Immersion’s technology at the San Diego Comic-Con 2009 conference in late July. The toy line, developed in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising, will feature heroes, creatures and vehicles from director James Cameron’s film, which is set for release in December. Each toy in the product line will come with a 3-D web tag, called an i-TAG, which consumers can scan using a home computer’s webcam or a video cam on a mobile phone. When toys equipped with the i-TAG are placed under a webcam, animated 3-D models will “come alive through engaging, evading or defending moves,” according to Mattel. Place two i-TAGs from the “Battle Pack” together and the 3-D images will fight with each other.
Such blurring of the virtual and physical worlds is made possible by Total Immersion’s patented augmented reality technology, which integrates real time interactive 3-D graphics into live video. Once the object is recognized by the webcam, the product comes to life on screen.
Augmented reality is creating lots of buzz as it moves into mass market consumer products and big corporations like Nike begin to apply it in their marketing campaigns, including mobile ads. Some, like Econsultancy, predict that augmented reality could become mobile’s killer application.
Europe appears to be taking the lead. Total Immersion’s three main competitors are all European: Germany’s Medaio, Italy’s Augmented Reality Media (AR-Media) and Belgium’s Alterface. Medaio is offering a mobile platform that is integrated with Facebook and lets you leave photos, tweets or animations of 3-D characters in physical places for people to discover later using a camera-based browser. Its technology is also being used to bring promotional materials to life. For example, it designed an in-store campaign for Lego which allows children to hold packages of Legos in front of a screen and then see, in 3-D, what the toy will look like once it is built.
The entertainment industry is another big focus for augmented reality companies. The technology is not just focused around movies like Fox’s “Avatar”. Alterface is behind Castle of Chaos, described as the world’s first 5-D amusement park ride which combines 3-D images with special effects, motion-based seats and a laser-shooting system that racks up scores. Disney is using Total Immersion’s technology to help promote specific amusement park rides. And Futuroscope, an amusement park located just outside Paris in Poitiers, has integrated Total Immersion’s technology in three different interactive games.
Total Immersion’s technology was developed by Total Immersion co-founder Valentin LeFevre, who spent six years working for Thomson Training & Simulation developing tank, flight, and helicopter simulations. He teamed with a friend and fellow Frenchman, Bruno Uzzan, Total Immersion’s CEO, who has a background in finance and accounting. They started working in a garage in a Paris suburb in 1999 and struggled during the first few years. Now that computing technology has advanced the number of applications and contracts is mushrooming, says Uzzan (pictured on Informilo’s home page and featured in the video on this page). The company is shifting its business model accordingly, towards the consumer market, targeting 50 million users in 2009, he says.
“Augmented reality has gained popularity with advertisers, retailers and marketers because of its unique ability to engage consumers in their experience with a brand,” says Uzzan. The French company says it is already working with McDonald’s, one of the world’s largest toy distributors , on integrating the technology into action figures distributed with Happy Meals. “This technology is now ready to massive deployment,” he says. “It is affordable for everybody, allowing six or seven- year- olds to start interacting with toys in real time.”
Mattel buys into that visition. “The development of our ‘Avatar’ toy line with the integration of the augmented reality technology marks an entirely new level of innovation in toys,” Doug Wadleigh, Vice President for Boys Action Play Marketing, Mattel, Inc., said in a prepared statement. “Boys will be able to play with the ‘Avatar’ figures and vehicles in ways that previously could only be imagined.”
Earlier this year Topps, a U.S. sports trading card company founded in 1938 and Total Immersion announced the introduction of “Topps 3D Live” baseball trading cards featuring stars who come alive at toppstown, the company’s virtual sports community. Fans can control the action as digital versions of the players emerge from the card to pitch, bat and catch their way around the desktop . To see how it works check out this video. “Children and adult collectors alike will get to experience something they’ve only dreamed about, watching their favorite players come to digital life right before their eyes,” former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, founder of The Torante Company, which owns The Topps Company, said in a prepared statement at the time of the launch.
Interactive code cards can be found in every pack of Topps 2009 Baseball Series 1 pack and also in packs of the Topps Attax baseball card game. Fans log on to www.toppstown.com, enter the Topps 3D Live section and select the player on the code card. Once the player is selected and the program is initialized by holding the card under a standard webcam, the players pop up from the card onscreen and springs to life. Players can then be rotated around, and fans can control the action on their desktop with keystrokes . In a second phase, digital incarations of say two wrestlers on two different cards might wrestle each other, says Uzzan.
The Topps launch coincided with the introduction of Total Immersion’s browser-based version of its D’Fusion technology, which enables users to run the software through a standard web browser. D’Fusion now operates under Internet Explorer versions 6.0 and higher and Firefox 2.0 and higher, with MacOS/Safari support scheduled for early in Q2.
Uzzan recently moved from France to Los Angeles in order to better promote Total Immersion’s technology in the U.S. The company is trying to raise more venture capital in order to expand its staff and its reach. The company’s current investors are Partech International, Elaia Partners and iSource Gesion. It has raised $8 million to date and is looking to raise another $8 million.