The Power of Augmented Reality and Gamification to Get Better Pictures


Nowadays smartphones and devices with cameras embedded are ubiquitous and users take pictures of almost everything—they snap shots of their everyday life, buildings, and landmarks—and this can be extremely useful for the big data and visualization crowd. After all, everything a tourist photographs that goes online can be used to produce high fidelity collages of what things look like.

However, researchers at McCormick School of Engineering discovered a problem: people don’t like to take pictures from odd angles.

The example given is that while a great deal of people love to photograph the Lincoln Memorial, most of them do not feel like taking photographs of it from the sides or from behind. As a result, there’s a dearth of photographs that show the memorial from these angles. This means that when putting together images to create 3D images of the memorial via these photos it leaves holes in the end model. As crowdsourcing for images of even this extremely popular memorial it wears thin, but it gets even worse for less popular locations.

The solution? An Android game that uses augmented reality to cause players to snap photographs of fleeing ghosts and thus putting them in position to take the pictures that researchers want them to—all the while earning accolades in a game! It weds two great things: people love to show off their accolades and achievements in games, and the researchers want photographs.

So they made a game for the Android, wrote a white paper on the results, and the summary is published in their engineering blog,

To test crowd soft control, the researchers created Android games, including one called Ghost Hunter in which a player chases ghosts around his neighborhood and “zaps” them through an augmented reality display on his phone. In actuality, the player’s zapping motion snaps a photo of the spot where the ghost is supposedly located.

Unlike a regular “augmented reality game,” where the ghosts might be placed randomly, in Ghost Hunterthe researchers are able to manipulate where the ghosts are placed; while some are placed in frequently traveled areas, others are located in out-of-the-way, rarely photographed locations.

The game was tested on Northwestern students, who were told only that they were testing a new game. They were not informed which ghosts were placed randomly and which were placed for research purposes.

The research it touting itself as an examination of how to “soft control” the movement of people (and what pictures they take) by giving them incentives to take the photographs that the researchers wanted. For gamification it’s brilliant as it allows a particular level of crowdsourcing control in order to get the players to do what they want by simply following the game’s rules. People will leap through a lot of hoops in an obsessive-compulsive manner to seek accolades and achievements due to social conditioning (after all MMORPGs and Xbox Live have hooked into this extremely well.)

The implications extend far beyond getting photographs, however.

For example, a city could make a traffic-control app included with GPS on a mobile device that not just suggests routes to drivers, but it could use the routes to enable a sort of gamification to give accolades to drivers who use the routes more often. Tie that together with an ad hoc network that is aware of the vehicles on the road and traffic congestion and you’ve generated a game that perhaps even if only 10% of the drivers on the road were using it might reduce overall traffic jams altogether.

Take that city planners.

Controlling the movement of GPS users in a “soft” manner by offering them rewards for following the guidelines of the game is a far cry better than a suggestion system—as it’s more likely to be followed—and it lacks the severity of a system that commands drivers or penalizes them for not obeying it. In fact, tossing out the entire idea of making a GPS traffic gamer obey anything is probably the best route to getting even a small portion of the population to go along with numerous civil projects that involve the movement of people.