“What if we could leave a message on the Gateway of India that nobody could take off?” When Sheetal S’ friends thought out loud, they were not talking about graffiti. The Kochi-based Augmented Reality (AR) designer has a number of friends in Mumbai who had participated in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. She also had many others who couldn’t, because of their parents’ concerns for their safety.
It is the latter’s urge to leave a silent, lasting sign of support that got her thinking, and made her come up with Air Poetry.
Developed with the help of Kochi-based AR outfit Kitebe, led by Jithin MS, the simulation currently lets you leave a pre-composed phrase or slogan on any surface — or even just (apparently) in the sky — as long as your phone camera is pointed at that space. The idea, eventually, is to leave an imprint that can be picked up by any other device that happens to look at that same space even days later, through the app. A message that leaves no mark.
“So if you were to leave your poetry somewhere near the Taj in Mumbai, I should be able to see it three days later,” says Sheetal, over phone from Kochi, “But that will be Phase 3 of the project, and we will begin our research on it post-February 15.” Phase 2 would give users the ability to put up their own words “on air”. Though the app is just in Phase 1 at the moment, it is already available on both the App Store (iOS 6S and above) and Google Play (for ARCore-supported Android devices).
AR for good
“The AR Foundation lets developers work on simulations of iOS and Android simultaneously, even though iOS is far more advanced,” says Sheetal, “There were still a number of challenges, particularly in the camera panning for Android.”
Currently, there are three phases; users can augment any one of the three phrases onto their surroundings. Once they make their choice, they can take an image of the augmentation, with themselves or their friends in the frame as well. But the real scope for this app seems to lie in Phase 2, with Apple Store users already requesting for the ability to project their own words. Sheetal acknowledges both the scope and the dangers in this: once they allow for that ability, the messages being spread would be out of their hands. “We are working to put some safeguards in place, such as blocking out abusive words,” she says.
At the stage Air Poetry is in currently, Sheetal adds, privacy is not a concern. “We don’t even ask you for user location yet, only access to camera. There is 0% personal data being collected. It is only in later stages, when we customise, that we may require additional permissions,” she says.
Though a self-funded project, the app is currently available for free, and runs without any advertisements. “We have not figured out an income model for it yet,” she admits, before pointing out how similar simulations are being used in education and advertising sectors abroad. “In India, for now, people are just having some fun with it.”