Place-Based Virtual and Augmented Reality

Principle Investigator, John Craig Freeman

Whereas the public square was once the quintessential place to air grievances, display solidarity, express difference, celebrate similarity, remember, mourn, and reinforce shared values of right and wrong, it is no longer the only anchor for interactions in the public realm. Public discourse has been relocated to a novel space; a virtual space that encourages exploration of mobile location based public art and media. Moreover, public space is now truly open, as immersive virtual experiences can be produced anywhere in the world, –with profound implications for public sphere and the discourse that surrounds it.

In the early 1990s, we witnessed the migration of the public sphere from the physical realm, the town square and its print augmentation, to the virtual realm, the Internet. In effect, the location of public discourse and the site of national identity formation have been extended into the virtual world.

The public sphere spent many years drifting around the ‘everywhere and nowhere,’ placelessness of the Internet. It is now crashing back down to place in the form of place-based virtual and augmented reality, without losing its distributed character or its connections to the vast resources of the world-wide digital network.


Research Objectives

The virtual world is now being constructed in physical space, all around us. This is the context for experiments in place-based virtual and augmented reality, which allows us to overlay this virtual public sphere onto our experience of the physical, cultural world. It is important to keep in mind that these new forms and practices need to be invented, just as the technology is invented. Research objectives include the development of the technologies, the methodology and the content for truly immersive and navigable virtual experiences, based in real places around the world.

Technologies will be developed to create virtual and augmented reality content and stream it to mobile devices on location at the exact GPS coordinates where it was shot. The user interface must be not only location aware, it must make use of the mobile device’s compass and accelerometer to detect orientation, pitch, roll and yaw. This will allow the user to view the content from any direction, creating the sensation of total immersion.

Methodology will need to be developed as well. The work will be distributed across the city. The audience must be able to enter the project at any point and from any direction. This spatial approach to narrative structure is a fundamental departure from all traditional linear story forms, literature, theater, film etc. Spatial narrative requires new story construction methodologies. The story unfolds across space, rather than over time.

The technologies and methodologies will be developed in the context of the creation of original content using the city and its denizens as the subject matter.

The goal of the project is the invention of new forms of public art and media created on location, which document and/or respond to situations where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities.


MIT Open Documentary Lab

Research Task

Panoramic Video

Panoramic or immersive video is a video recording of a real world scene, where the view in every direction is recorded at the same time. During playback the viewer has control of the viewing direction, up down & sideways.


Photogrammetry is used to create 3D models from series of photographs taken at various angles.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a live, copy, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.


Panoramic Video


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