The latest tech for kids is augmented reality, which brings digital animations to life when you show books to a webcam. Clever, yes – but is it really necessary when children have such rich imaginations?
Dorling Kindersley has been showing off two ‘augmented reality’ books about dinosaurs and the human body.
These combine the written word with digital information that ‘augments’ into 3D animations on your computer screen.
How augmented reality works
The books remind me of The Neverending Story, a film I recall watching on a school trip (quite a few years ago). The story follows a young boy who discovers a magical book and then discovers he’s living the story for real.
Ok, so augmented reality books can’t transport you to a new world, but they can make images appear to spring to life from the pages of a book. The technology seems to work well judging by the video we filmed at The Gadget Show in Birmingham:
Simply hold the pages of a book up to a webcam and an animation appears to leap off the page. You can even change the animation’s appearance by covering specific boxes on the page – and choose to see dinosaurs fighting or laying eggs.
Augmented reality books are clunky
But, as someone who’s passionate about books (something I’ve passed on to my five-year-old daughter), I wonder if this will fire a child’s imagination more than a conventional book.
I know it’s stating the obvious, but the animations don’t literally leap out of the page as you’re reading the book. You have to carry it over to your computer, and flash the image at your monitor screen – which all seems a little clunky to me.
Surely there are other technologies which have proved more effective at bringing dinosaurs to life, such as the BBC’s excellent Walking with Dinosaurs – still available for free online or you can buy the complete DVD.
Since the making of Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) technology’s progressed, notably with the advent of 3D. But that’s still no guarantee of a good story. Sure, Avatar was OK but there have been plenty of 3D films that have, frankly, been a bit naff.
No substitute for a child’s imagination
The bottom line is that technology is just a tool, like a pen and paper, typewriter, word processor and PC. It’s these basic ingredients – along with a good story and an interested reader – that makes books magical.
Does my daughter need augmented reality? The simple answer is ‘no’. At bedtime, when I’m reading her Bella goes to School, that small, talking rabbit and her friend are as real to her as any animation could ever be.