What Nikola Tesla and augmented reality have in common - Technical.ly Philly

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Sep. 2, 2014 10:30 am

What Nikola Tesla and augmented reality have in common

Brian Yetzer's Nikola Tesla app brings the "mad scientist" to life, via tablet and smartphone.
A demonstration of Yetzer Studio’s Nikola Tesla app, where videos and 3D images are launched by details embedded in posters.

A demonstration of Yetzer Studio's Nikola Tesla app, where videos and 3D images are launched by details embedded in posters.

(Image courtesy of Yetzer Studio)

It’s Friday night, and you decide to check out a local art show. As you enter the gallery, you can’t help but notice that everyone around you is staring at their phone or tablet.

As it turns out, they’re not texting or scrolling through their Instagram feeds; their devices are scanning the artwork’s inlaid barcodes and producing interactive digital content.

You grab your own device, download the appropriate app, scan the barcodes and watch as the room comes alive.

Welcome to augmented reality (AR); welcome to a slice of Brian Yetzer’s vision.

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Yetzer, CEO of Yetzer Studio, is seeking to harness AR’s educational potential. The time to capture that potential, he says, is right now.

Brian Yetzer.

Brian Yetzer. (Photo courtesy of Brian Yetzer)

“Almost everyone has a smartphone or a tablet that can run fast enough to process graphics in real time,” says Yetzer, a former graphics instructor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia and Drexel University.

It was this line of thought that led Yetzer to found the eponymous Yetzer Studio. “It’s my art and tech playground. It’s a vehicle to drive home an educational point,” he said.

His first project? The Nikola Tesla app.

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The app, available only for Apple products at the moment, scans a piece of canvas art (designed by Yetzer) and produces 3D animations with audio playback. The interactive lesson plan was successfully crowdfunded early this year. The app was made available in iTunes in June.

Yetzer provides one free digital poster on his site, but there are presently two additional posters/lessons available for purchase. A portion of the profits made from the project will go to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, where a Tesla museum is being developed onsite at Nikola Tesla’s former home in Shoreham, N.Y.

“For me, it’s about educating people about who Nikola Tesla was and his contributions to humanity,” says Yetzer, who designed, developed and programmed every aspect of the app from the animation to ecommerce.

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Last year, Yetzer spent time with Tesla coil and wireless electricity expert Gary Peterson in his log cabin in Colorado. There, the two worked tirelessly on AR simulations for the Nikola Tesla app. “I translated everything in his head to my software,” says Yetzer, who showcased the Tesla app at the latest Auggie Awards (aka the Emmys for AR tech) in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t until 2010 that Yetzer was introduced to Tesla’s work by Nikola Lonchar of the Tesla Science Foundation, a group Yetzer is now a part of.

What you'd see on your smartphone: an animation superimposed on a poster. (Photo courtesy of Yetzer Studio)

What you’d see on your smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Yetzer Studio)

So, what does the future of augmented reality hold?

“We’re seeing a lot more GPS-enabled augmented reality experiences,” Yetzer says, “which is exciting because it gets people outside and interacting with the real world.”

Philadelphia is no stranger to IRL experiences suffused with a digital overlay. Local video collective Termite TV recently organized an AR walking tour of Philly’s “Chinese Wall.” It’s one of many time-traveling explorations in the group’s Walk Philly series.

How much longer will it be until AR technology allows complete sensory-based interaction with content? What effect will that technology have on the human experience?

“On one level, humans still aren’t comfortable just communicating with each other,” Yetzer said. “We don’t need [this technology]. It’s a tool.” At the same time, he says, all humans innately desire new experiences and methods of obtaining information.

Until further developments in AR technology allow us to smell and taste whatever the 19th century might have had to offer, we’ll have to settle for interacting with the visual and audio components of history. Exploring the wonders of Tesla’s wireless electricity is a start.

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