Although AR headsets make use of spatially aware 3D visuals and audio to create convincing augmentations, many other senses (touch, smell, and taste) have currently been left behind in our physical reality. In a typical home today, various simple technologies fill entire rooms. A digital silver alarm clock on a bedroom nightstand might be integrated closely with an individual’s morning routine, with the “Snooze” button showing some wear. A pencil laying on a desk might be used to jot down a quick note, and placed in a briefcase to be stowed away for future use.
As a substitute for a lack of physical items in an increasingly mixed reality world, I present a vision of Placeholders: low cost, tangible user interfaces that act as a substitute for the physical items replaced in an AR-centric world. These simple physical items have the potential to come in many shapes and sizes. Much like the physical items in our world today, some forms might be better at particular tasks than others. With an augmented reality headset, a holographic projection is paired with the object and then tracked alongside it in real-time. Headset-wearers could assign “apps” to particular placeholders in their homes, and switch them at any time. Optionally, haptic feedback could be included inside the devices to bring an even more convincing tangible experience to the object.
As an early prototype for the Interactions with the Future course taught by Wesley Willett at the University of Calgary, I designed a simple remote-shaped placeholder 3D model in OpenSCAD and then used a CNC Mill to fabricate it out of a white polycarbonate material. Although the form is simple, this shape felt versatile enough to fit a wide variety of applications. I also developed a concept for the product’s exterior packaging that one might come across in a store in the future. While the front of the packaging has a printed design for demonstration purposes, in an AR-centric world, it is likely the entire packaging would be made up of trackable patterns, similar to what can be found on the backside of the box. The placeholder object itself can be positioned on any of its six faces and has the ability to take on various visual forms in AR. To demonstrate this, I created my first ARKit powered iOS app leveraging the image detection technology that was recently released at the time. On the iPhone’s screen in augmented reality, the back of the packaging animates in examples of the placeholder’s potential applications. While in a future dominated by augmented reality product use cases relating to the viewer’s personal tastes might be shown, I created three examples, using Photoshop and Blender’s UV mapping, that each demonstrate a placeholder video game controller, eraser, and alarm clock. Each of these concepts makes use of tangible feedback in some fashion with various sides of the placeholder making use of interface elements that can be interacted with through touch.