Augmented Reality


UAF-BBC Campus Facade

This image represents my starting place in working with Aurasma.  I very much wanted the building itself to trigger an overlay.  I wasted a bit of time with that and came away disappointed. I tried as well to drop some coordinates in the middle of that concrete in front of the door, alas.

However, working with Aurasma is the assignment.  So I turned to what I could get it to do.   On the phone app, I noticed a couple featured auras, one for the back of a dollar bill and the other the back of a twenty. Opened my wallet and extracted one of each and fired up the camera in the app.  Although, I found the content to be goofy both worked. Lesson learned, the triggers needed to be quickly recognizable by the application so not overly complicated.

Casting about my office, I do a fair bit of marketing here at UAF-BBC, I landed on the tri-fold brochures.  I am not a big fan of this promotion format, and I wondered if auras might make them more fun? In part landing on the Sustainable Energy brochures was because I know we have a fair bit of content that works as overlays. Since my initial foray into using Aurasma had been frustrating and ambiguous, I hoped this might give me some success to build on.

Link to Apple Store for Aurasma app download.

Link to Google Play for Android Aurasma app download.

follow rdheath on Aurasma

Sustainable Energy Brochure Aurasma Version

Sustainable Energy 1

I used my phone camera to capture images from a printed version of the brochure, actually every image because I didn’t know where this was going. My thought was that that camera was going to have to recognize the trigger and perhaps starting with it might streamline things. I cropped and made some minor image adjustments in Adobe Photoshop.  I then dropped this picture of the photovoltaic panel installation on the trigger element of Aurasma studio. I grabbed the interview video and compressed it in Camtasia and cut that into the overlay.  I felt flummoxed that it worked.

Sustainable Energy 2

My thought with adding these elements to the print brochures was to enrich them.  In my years of making flyers and brochures, I have always encountered the problem of too much content, not enough space. That is compounded now with the lack of interactivity or media one has to read them simply, and nobody reads anymore.

I had no content for the Yup’ik values at least no media.  I hit the Alaska Native Knowledge Network website and spent a moderate amount of time spinning my wheels looking for something, anything.  In the end, I decided to experiment with a simple image.  The first one I made the font is too small, and so I’ll make another with two columns of text so that the values are legible on the phone.

Yup’ik Cultural Values

Tom shaking hands with White House Press Secrtary

For us, here at UAF-BBC and Dillingham, Alaska, Dr. Marsik’s world record and President Obama’s visit are points of pride, stories that cannot be overlooked.  The actual video of the world record blower door test is nearly 11 minutes long and simply too much for this application. So, I had to edit it.  In truth were this a real work assignment I would consider crafting something altogether new for this use.  But for this assignment, revised version will have to stand as a placeholder.  I again dumped the mp4 into Camtasia knowing that I was cropping it and compressing it.  What surprised me in testing once the overlay was added, was the strange aspect ratio change that made the house seem weirdly shaped. I will edit out that opening sequence and only start with Tom and Kristen talking for these purposes that is adequate.

And that is a fundamental element of developing auras, I think, it has to be an iterative task with lots of testing. Yes, I could have watched all the Aurasma tutorial videos to learn how to do it.  Indeed, I did look at a couple, and unfortunately, I found them too cheerful and free from the struggles I was encountering.  So, instead, I just muddled and satisficed through. Seeing the output of fellow students has inspired me to continue experimenting with the studio mostly out of nerdy curiosity not out of any sense that this app has a significant place in our marketing efforts.

I have an iPhone but were I trying to develop even this type of project I would test early and often on different devices. Too situating the trigger and sizing the overlay to fit a phone display even close to optimally takes iteration.  It seems that the Aurasma server updates on a quarter or half-hour and that means waiting impatiently after every change.  It meant as well limiting the number of changes so that I could isolate variables.

I think locking the overlay so that once it is triggered it runs no matter what a person does with the trigger is a critical step.  Handheld brochure and handheld camera made for really annoying user experience because the app would lose track of the trigger, find it, and then restart the overlay, again, and again.

I found myself switching between several different programs, Camtasia, Movie Maker, and Adobe Photoshop for example to do this work.  If I was less facile with software, I suspect this project could be challenging. Despite the clunkiness of the Aurasma studio and app, I find myself intrigued with how to make better overlays. I am wondering as well if PowerPoint might have some functions that could simply contribute to overlay development.


With this experience, I am struck by what seems the heavy landing on the side of “push marketing” that Aurasma appears to enforce. “Pull marketing” is more about conversation and co-creation of experiences and a product or service.  Social media and our topic of digital storytelling have a play in making this definition meaningful. This ambivalence is a concern I was not expecting to surface at the outset of this assignment. The part of me that is paid to tell the UAF-BBC story is reconciled in some ways to the need to push our story.

If I were still working an academic library, I would try to develop this as a self-guided tour of both services and resources in the library.  Librarians are fond of making scavenger hunts as training devices.  I think I would avoid that conceit and instead simply have point-of-service types of improved interface. While this class is about digital storytelling, I’m afraid we can take that too far particularly when we are approaching customers.

I have been kind of aggressive in my ignoring QR codes; however, the frustrations with Aurasma have inclined me to reset.  I wonder if combining QR and Aura’s might be an interesting approach.  I showed this work in progress to Dr. Marsik, he recounted giving Dillingham High School students a tour and watching them recognize and use QR codes that he was oblivious to because he didn’t know what they were. I was questioning the payback of this kind of development for a community like Dillingham.  However, hearing Dr. Marsik’s observation leads me to wonder if young people might quickly pick up on using the Aruasma app. Nonetheless, I think I would add a statement to the brochure about downloading the app and using the triggers to learn more about our program rather than assuming the customer recognized the logo.

I think this functionality that adds information (to buildings or skylines, cars, whatever real-world objects) is where I want this technology to go. In reading for this assignment the more recent articles identify the linkages between the internet of things and augmented reality as a critical moment. I particularly resonate with this scenario:

This technology could be used by emergency responders. “Moreover, those same first responders might plug certain variables into an incident as it is unfolding to ‘see’ the prediction of what will happen. They could visualize where the crowds will go, how the flood will expand, where the fire might move and which people and/or facilities would be impacted,” DeLoach says. The technology could also enable first responders to practice how they respond to challenging situations such as interacting with hazardous materials. “This would allow them to manage their response much more effectively as a result—likely saving lives,” DeLoach says. (Buntz, 2016)

I can imagine a contact lens, for example, worn by first-responders for heads-up and hands-free application of such simulation and scenario planning. While some of the information would be trended from databases real-time information might be collected from drones. At the end that is all very game-play and moviesque and probably likely and valuable.

Since some of our aim here is to reinvent ourselves as Instructional Designers, I wondered about real uses of Aurasma style augmented reality in schools. A quick search of YouTube, of course, yielded results.

And, I am left feeling like this is a pivotal moment, and both teachers and students contributed to it.  And yet I am not fulfilled.  I worry that this video shows just more “push education.” And that seems to be the limit of this technology at the moment.  I can push a story, you can push a story, but it is a struggle to pull stories, to co-create them, to have them organically branch and build from data, our interactions, and the narrative.

Above, I mention the role of the internet of things for informing augmented reality. The story the first-responders receive is a push story.  We see the purposiveness of storytelling in the initial inquiry, “Where will the flood spread? How best to respond?” It is probably a splendid and useful story, rich with information and prioritized and organized by artificial intelligence. And yet I am uncertain where the human agent comes into play as participant and co-creator of the story rather than a cyborg embodiment of the artificial intelligence. I do not feel paranoia or cynicism but rather a disappointment in this conclusion. Alas, at the point of execution the purposiveness of the story seems to have drained away.  If our robotics were sufficient, we could do away with the human first responder altogether.

But, I still want to hold my phone up, here in Dillingham, Alaska, (or insert a contact lens) and scan the panorama for hotspots. I want native place names, historical highlights, information about plants and animals as I look at a moose, or spruce. I want it to be Wikipedia-like so that I can participate in content creation as well. The language, other mnemonic devices, and our imaginations have been our augmented reality for eons. Pictured below are carved maps of the Greenland coastline serving as triggers for our Inuit hunters cultural overlay.
carved maps


Perhaps this technology-heavy augmented reality can mature into a real thing.  Certainly, the quality by which it seems to externalize and give body to imagination is fascinating. And yet, what we are exploring now seems thin and raw and underdeveloped.


Buntz, B. (2016, July 1) 10 Killer Applications of the IoT and Augmented Reality. Retrieved March 25, 2017 from

Charles Cooper [Charles Cooper] (2016, Nov 7). Teaching with Aurasma. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Inuit Cartography. (2016). [Graph illustration]. The Decolonial Atlas. Retrieved from