Workshop augmented reality

Share Festival augments the skies of Turin.

The “Augmented Reality” workshop, held by Sander Veenhof and Bruce Sterling at the Quazza Laboratory, was a special Turin event introducing the city to augmented reality—what it is, the sectors it can be applied to, and the people who can make the most of the technology.

The term “augmented reality”, derived from “virtual reality”, was first used by Ronald Azuma in 1997 in A Survey of Augmented Reality. In that ground-breaking essay, augmented reality was defined as the possibility of augmenting the real world environment with virtual information by improving people’s senses and skills. An object is augmented if it combines the real-world environment and virtual data, if it is interactive in real time, and if it overlaps different information levels—images, sounds and text—onto three-dimensional space. That is, beyond the implicit metaphor of the term, it is not reality that is augmented, but the information we have on reality.

New career opportunities have thus emerged in connection with interaction design, which has applications in a vast range of sectors—from advertising and communications to urban modelling, the car industry, defence, education, gaming, archaeology, architecture, industrial design, building, law enforcement, emergency services, infotainment, edutainment, animation, the aviation and space industries, tourism, TV and media, periodicals, shopping, telepresence and control interfaces, as well as what may appear to be more bizarre applications, such as illusionism and the circus, taking stage magic up to another level.

The writer Bruce Sterling, a man no longer in need of introduction, explored the field, presenting his own unconventional perspective on the topic and his experience of the augmented reality course held at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The collection of articles and videos posted by Bruce Sterling on his blog, and tagged “Augmented Reality”, represent a key online resource for the field.

Sander Veenhof was the “artist in residence” for the augmented reality app Layar. He presented the expressive possibilities of the medium and showcased his own technical skills, guiding participants in the creation of a new layer of augmented reality for Turin.

The Dutch artist was the co-author of the first augmented reality art manifesto with the collective Manifest.AR. The collective consists of Mark Skwarek (US), Sander Veenhof (NL), Tamiko Thiel (US,JP,DE), Will Pappenheimer (US), John Craig Freeman (US), Christopher Manzione, (US), and Geoffrey Alan Rhodes (US).

Intertwined with the world of smartphones, augmented reality uses mobile phone cameras and GPS to view the virtual data available for a specific location. Three specific browsers exist to access content through smartphones: Layar, Wikitude and Junaio. These browsers, however, are not like we browsers, where everyone can access the same sites. Instead, each browser is a platform for registered virtual content, which means that each browser can be used to access only the content registered by developers on the platform. That, for now, is a limitation.

The result of the workshop was the creation of “Share Festival” content for Layar, designed for visitors to Turin for the event. Launching Layar on your smartphone in Turin lets you see the Share Festival content. At a simple tap, icons appear all around you, showing you where you can eat or drink, where you can find free Wi-Fi, where the Regional Museum of Natural Science is located, where you can buy the best chocolate, drink a good bicerin… in short, a guide to the skies of Turin to make the most of your Share Festival experience.

Thanks to a special web page created by Sander Veenhof for the Share Festival, information can be inserted to augment the skies of Turin as simply as updating a blog—using the same interventionist model that Manifest.AR, of which Sander Veenhof is a part, and the Invisible Pavilion used for the 54th Venice Biennale. The same kind of initiative was run for the MoMA in 2010.

Through the Share Festival layer, Turin has discovered a new frontier right over it, a new interface to communicate with both locals and visitors alike.

Download Layar onto your smartphone and look up Share Festival.


Sander Veenhof focuses his work on new models of interaction and communication. Recent developments in augmented reality and mobile telephony have enabled him to exhibit his work at the MoMA in New York and at the Venice Biennale. He is currently exploring new ways of opening up virtual space to the public.

Bruce Sterling is a science-fiction writer, essayist and journalist. He is a veteran contributor to the Share Festival.