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LEGO reality: augmented to awesome

How do you get what’s inside a box of LEGO, outside of the box, without opening the box? Find out how Intel dealt with the challenge LEGO set.
BRICK 2014, a recent immersive event for LEGO fans young and old, had over 50,000 attendees who had the chance to play with over 1,000,000 bricks. Smash hits like 2014’s LEGO Movie have driven a big rise in sales, but that doesn’t mean that LEGO is slowing up in any way with both children and adults having played with LEGO for over 50 years, making it the most successful toy in the world.

The Danish plastic block maker now works with Intel for what Adrian Whelan, IOT New Business Development Director, Intel says is the ‘sharing of ideas.’
This combination of Intel’s technology and LEGO’s creativity and play works in many ways, one of which is the augmented reality Digital Boxes that they have developed to go into LEGO stores worldwide.

‘LEGO was looking at how to get what’s inside the box, out of the box, without opening the box,’ Adrian said whilst explaining how the project came about.
The principle is simple; it’s a PC under the display case, on that PC there around 300 augmented reality models. When a person walks up to the screen, puts the box in front of it, the camera picks up the image, pulls that from the computer and then projects that as a fully-made LEGO model on the screen.
‘If you see the kids’ faces, they see the bricks being built, they see the mini-figures running around and it just blows them away,’ Adrian added.

A father and his son use the Digital Box

A father and his son use the Digital Box

This isn’t LEGO’s first foray into the world of augmented reality, however, by now partnering with Intel the cost of the units has been reduced and the number of LEGO models it can display has been increased. The units are based on Intel Sandybridge ITX systems with integrated graphics and run software by metaio.

The camera doesn’t scan a barcode or QR code, it looks at the image on the box and then brings up the model and fuses virtual 3D content into a live video of actual product. This is no easy task, in fact it is difficult to recognise and use the image of the packaging as optical reference for true to scale and then position the display of the referenced information when you have hundreds of possible boxes and render the multimedia animations smoothly and fast. Everything has to be done in parallel, which is where Intel’s multi-threading high-performance chipset come to the rescue.

The kits don’t just sit there either. As the children, or parents, rotate the box, so does the image so you can see how it looks from all angles. Cars, lorries and fire engines move, helicopters fly and the LEGO mini-figures go about their jobs right in front of you. It all looks so good, you just want to get the kit and start building as soon as you can.
Beyond the Digital Box, Intel has also developed an app for smartphones and tablets called Pocket Avatar. This is an over-the-top messaging service with a slight difference.

With the app installed on your smartphone, you pick your avatar, which can be Wyldstyle or Emmet from the LEGO movie, and you talk into your phone. As you move and smile and wink it picks up your face and then you get that portrayed back in the form of Emmet or Wyldstyle and you send that as a message to your friends.

So why text when you can be the nobody who saved everybody and send an interactive message instead? As the man himself said, it’s awesome. But then when LEGO is involved everything, generally, is.

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