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A(i)R Hockey

Design meets AR,
unlocking exciting new possibilities

At Sony Design, reworking existing technologies into brand-new experiences is a key part of the job. Take A(i)R Hockey,
for example, which recently wowed audiences at SXSW 2018—the world's biggest creative business festival.
Harnessing a bevy of cutting-edge Sony technologies, including high-speed vision sensors, the unique predictive algorithms,
and haptics technology, the setup is a captivating, game-changing glimpse of where augmented reality (AR) could go:
redefining experiences with new sensory dimensions.

Fusing the technological magic
into new value

Sony was looking for a way to use its high-speed vision sensors, capable of tracking moving objects at 1,000 frames per second, to craft a brand-new, revolutionary user experience. That was the core vision behind the A(i)R Hockey project. What the showcase designers wanted to do, then, was not to explain how the technology works—they wanted to create an entertainment experience that would let users play their way to an intuitive, visceral understanding of the innovation.

The process started out with a fundamental question: how could Sony deliver fun, exciting experiences that made the most of its high-speed sensing technologies? Brainstorming hundreds of ideas, from baseball and other ball sports to a host of other games across the spectrum, the team eventually came around to air hockey—a game with both a universal appeal and an optimal format for showcasing the technology. With Sony's high-speed vision sensors tracking the virtual pucks zooming across the playing surface and the unique predictive algorithms enabling responsive trajectory mapping, the engineers knew that they could keep the projections of all the moving pieces in perfect sync. Sony's haptics technology, capable of applying tactile sensations to the interface, could imbue the virtual pucks with a realistic "touch" and take the AR experience to a whole new level. The technological components were all in place—it was time for the team to make A(i)R Hockey a reality.

Immersing players in new experiences
to showcase cutting-edge technologies

For the designers, the main goal was to make A(i)R Hockey an intuitive, immersive gaming experience for everyone—even first-time users—and combine the virtual and the real into something with a distinctive, fresh feel. The table the team came up with, for starters, gives the gaming experience a complete makeover. A normal air hockey surface is a rectangle, but the designers went with a circular design to create a three-player setup with unpredictable puck movement and a more dynamic competitive environment. Another focus was on giving the visual component a unique flavor, which the team did by rendering the trajectories of the players' pucks in user-specific color trails of red, blue, and green. When the game is over, the residual trajectory projections glow in vibrant hues, giving the experience a visual flair from start to finish.

Joining the real, physical pucks on the table are a mix of virtual pucks, which pack a lifelike tactile punch thanks to the haptics technology in the paddles. The virtual pucks are about more than just haptics, though. They also look and behave so much like the real thing that the differences are almost imperceptible—and that blurring of boundaries, that seamless mesh of the real and the virtual, only serves to deepen the sensory impact of the AR experience. The links between the real and the virtual are the paddles, which not only provide tactile feedback but also beam out the players' respective colors via projection tracking and feature glowing white outlines that make the paddles seem to hover over the dark playing surface.

Bottom right: (L to R) Iseki (designer), Ikeda (engineer), Mizuno (project leader), Ohno (project manager), and Ohki (designer) at the SXSW 2018 venue

How design shapes
the experiences of the future

The A(i)R Hockey demonstration at SXSW 2018 proved wildly successful, pulling in a diverse mix of attendees from across the globe for fun-filled, action-packed face-offs. For the design team, the biggest thrill was hearing about how the gaming experience welcomed people into the technology with smooth, effortless ease: even complete newcomers to the AR and VR worlds came out of the exhibit enthusiastic about the technology's potential, excited about how it could infuse day-to-day life with more enjoyment. That, after all, was what the whole A(i)R Hockey project was aiming for: a captivating introduction to the new possibilities of AR.

A dazzling fusion of high-speed vision sensors, the unique predictive algorithms, and haptics technology, A(i)R Hockey is just one example of how the Sony Group's plethora of innovative technologies can unite into new user experiences. The potential combinations are endless—just like Sony Design's relentless pursuit of new experiences on the cutting edge.

When you put high-speed vision sensors and other forms of cutting-edge technology together
with the imaginative sparks in designers' minds, the results can be amazing.
For proof, look no further than A(i)R Hockey: a new AR game that shines a light on what our AR future could be like.