Ask the average homeowner whether they would like to see spiders and ants walking across their table, and the answer is likely to be an emphatic “no.” But what if the arachnids and insects were merely digital — part of an interactive augmented reality experience developed by the BBC and narrated by beloved English actor Stephen Fry?
That’s the pitch behind Micro Kingdoms: Senses, an educational AR app released today by BBC Earth and developer Preloaded for the Magic Leap platform. Using AI to simulate the critters’ real-world interactions, the BBC presents a collection of Leaf Cutter Ants and a large Wandering Spider that promise to respond to the environment they’re placed in and the viewer’s presence. In other words, once you’re wearing Magic Leap’s AR glasses, you can expect them to walk across a surface you’ve defined as safe and move defensively if you come too close. Users can also drop a leaf or rock and watch as the insects interact with it.
Ants and spiders may be an ideal match for the capabilities of early Magic Leap hardware. Though the company initially suggested its technology would be able to bring realistic digital whales into school gymnasium-scale settings, the first-generation headset’s limited field of view augments only a small square of space within the wearer’s vision. But a reasonably powerful Nvidia Tegra X2 chipset supports fairly realistic 3D models inside that augmented area, which the developers have used to create believably furry spiders and precisely animated ants, as well as leaves and anthills to interact with.
Stephen Fry jovially narrates the experience, which lets users see ants in Central America’s tropical rainforest conditions and the spider in a Brazilian forest. Beyond the immersion value of being able to walk up to the creatures and inspect them, the app introduces some drama, including an up-close look at how the spider hunts down prey and the walking ants suddenly taking flight.
Micro Kingdoms: Senses is available today to download from Magic Leap World, though the cost of the hardware will likely keep the app from reaching average consumers. Magic Leap 1 hardware continues to be available starting at $2,295, with developer suite and enterprise suite packages at $2,495 and $2,995.