Snapchat virtually restores London’s Big Ben with holiday-themed, location-based AR Lens

[This story from Next Reality describes what I think is a clever idea: Using augmented reality to create presence experiences of tourist sites – in this case Big Ben – while they’re under renovation (I wish it had been in place for the 600 year old Astronomical Clock in Prague that was being restored during the PRESENCE 2018 conference and is now back in service). See the original Next Reality story for animated gifs and a 13 second video of Snapchat’s Cat Lenses (also available via YouTube), and see a 21 second video of the Big Ben AR on YouTube.

Here’s wishing all of us a safe, healthy, productive and happy 2019!


Snapchat Virtually Restores London’s Big Ben with Holiday-Themed, Location-Based AR Lens

By Tommy Palladino
December 21, 2018

The city of London is getting a holiday gift this season, but it’s not the kind you unwrap, since it’s completely delivered in augmented reality.

Snapchat has created an augmented reality version of the famed Big Ben tower clock building that enables Westminster residents and visitors to see the tower in its intended splendor, free of the current restoration coverings that hide it from full view.

Last year, renovations began on the Great Clock in the Elizabeth tower, better known as Big Ben. The famous tower remains shrouded in scaffolding and, outside of exceptions like New Year’s Eve, its trademark bell will stay muted until 2020.

However, a World Lens from Snapchat virtually peels back the scaffolding to reveal the tower as it should appear after renovations are complete, with an accurately-scaled model viewable from various angles and distances. The AR experience encases the tower in a virtual snowglobe with holiday greetings superimposed across its facade.

In addition, the experience recreates the clock’s famous chimes and bongs. And when using the front-facing camera, Snapchat’s well known facial recognition technology outfits users within the camera’s view with virtual Union Jack top hats.

The Lens will only appear in the Lens carousel for users within 300 meters (or about 980 feet) of the landmark, therefore users must also accept location permissions. Snap also recommends an iPhone 6 and above or a mid-range Android device to make the Lens work.

Snapchat has toyed with location-based AR experiences with Lenses geofenced to amusement parks and its Easter Egg Hunt, but the Big Ben Lens is the first to apply a large-scale experience on a specific building location. This opens up a wide world of on-site AR opportunities, such as those envisioned in Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper Reality short film, and other science fiction films.

Despite shaky financial results, user base erosion, and executive turnover, Snap has stuck to its guns in terms of leaning on augmented reality as a corporate priority throughout 2018. Snapchat has released an array of new AR features, such as its Snappables multi-player experiences, the Shoppable AR e-commerce platform, and a Visual Search partnership with Amazon.

And, gradually, the company has also grown its Lens Studio development tool into a full-fledged community of creators. Snap has even extended its AR camera to the desktop, and made strides toward smartglasses with new Spectacles earlier this year.

Amid all of its new products and features, the company’s AR lab has also come up with several new AR capabilities, such as cat recognition and sound recognition.

The advancement of AR capabilities is where Snap continues to display leadership, and will be critical as the company attempts to move into the smartglasses era of computing.


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