The promise of a new technology is often better than the real thing. This is particularly true for augmented and mixed reality. Exciting demo videos show 3D characters hopping around our real world! But the actual user experience often involves squinting at a phone screen, watching these models through a tiny window. We’re once-removed from the perfect illusion.
Disney Research has an intriguing, relatively low-fi solution to this problem. It’s called Magic Bench. Using a piece of furniture we all know, the bench anchors the user to one spot, directly in front of a TV that shows an augmented world. Meanwhile, Disney uses a depth-sensing camera to map the scene and add 3D characters.
The effect is something like a magic mirror from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, in which riders come face-to-face with their ghost doppelgängers. By fixing your perspective via the bench, you face the TV naturally. Your attention is aimed right at the perfect angle for the illusion. It has one other great trick, too: Actuators hidden underneath the bench add vibrations, so the characters nearby seem to thump the seat with real weight. Theoretically, such technology could be just as easily built into a couch or chair, rather than just this one bench.
Does this mean Disney’s Magic Bench is coming to your home anytime soon? Almost certainly not. But if anyone can make use of a clever new digital mirage, it’s Disney–and all of its parks.