Disney plans to make augmented reality a shared experience

Its Magic Bench lets everyone join in experiences.

Augmented and mixed reality experiences tend to be solo affairs: you're either looking at your phone or wearing a headset. For Disney Research, that's not nearly social enough. Its scientists have created the Magic Bench, a blend of augmented and mixed reality that entire groups can share. It uses the combination of a camera and a depth sensor to produce a 3D recreation of you and the bench, letting virtual characters and objects interact with you as if they were there. And the seating is key to this -- it can tell the system how many people are present, where they're facing, and vibrate when a digital actor sits down. The activity you participate in depends directly on how many people are involved and what they're doing.

Everyone involved can see what they're doing through a mirrored projection of the room, so they don't have to wear headsets or other devices.

Given that this is coming from Disney's research team, it's easy to see the entertainment uses for the Magic Bench: you could have theme park attractions where numerous guests can play with their favorite animated heroes. There are some practical uses, though. You could have shared virtual interfaces, or presentations that change depending on who's attending. The big challenge is creating a shared experience that doesn't depend on a prop -- you'd need more advanced techniques to base an activity solely on the people within the scene.