To help promote next week’s summer movie behemoth Tranformers 2, Paramount recently launched a web site using augmented reality, in which real-world data is merged to a virtual overlay. That’s a fancy way of saying the site uses your web camera to capture video of your face, then plop Optimus Prime’s robot head onto yours. (If you don’t feel like installing the required Active X plug-in, here’s a video of it in action.) Now you can pretend to be a Transformer without having to legally change your name, like a National Guardsman famously did before going to Iraq. I accidentally left the site up during my lunch break, then glanced at my laptop to see Optimus Prime in my living room, noshing on chow mein.
If you’re not a Transformers fan, however, it’ll probably entertain you for roughly 30 seconds. There doesn’t seem to be any functionality beyond the head-matching gimmick, which is disappointing. An option to send “I’m Optimus Prime!” screenshots to friends, for example, or post videos to YouTube, would have been nice additions. (When it comes to using augmented reality video in marketing, I prefer the much more interactive General Electric’s Smart Grid campaign from earlier this year.) At best, then, it’s a very small baby step into augmented reality, but thanks to its connection with a prominent Hollywood movie, will probably introduce a fairly large audience to this still relatively obscure technology. We can only hope future online video productions explore augmented reality’s full potential.