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By selecting a flag, the viewer immerses herself in a narrated, 3-D surround view of one of the university’s thousands of such tunnels.

Feiner’s documentaries, though, are hypermedia stories embedded in the real world and presented using a mobile augmented reality system.

For hands- (and head-) free presentations, projectors and touch sensors are being used by Raskar and his MERL colleagues to graphically animate physical objects.

In their lab, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they’ve created a Taj Mahal that reflects a 24-hour light cycle; in only a few moments’ time, you can see the effect light would have on the building’s onion domes and flanking towers as a simulated sun rises and then falls.

Using the same technology, a nine-year-old girl, using a white paint brush, white piece of paper and white bird house, demonstrates how she can choose a new color from a digital palette and “paint” her paper and bird house.

“Children are extremely attracted to these displays,” Raskar says in a phone interview.

And adults – the ones with money in their pockets – are extremely attracted to demonstrations of spatial AR in advertising.

Paul Dietz, senior research scientist at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories and a colleague of Raskar’s, says its MERL lab in Cambridge is host to a music store display.

At the store’s entrance is a fancy set of speakers, playing catchy hip-hop music. Interest piqued, the shopper walks closer to the setup, and the music changes genres and the volume picks up.

Now standing next to the display and looking straight at a speaker, the shopper sees the inner workings of the hi-fi equipment itself. And if he handles a component, the display changes yet again.

Raskar explains the technology behind this exhibit, demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2004 is similar to that in a photocopier; when an office worker walks by the copy machine, it detects her presence and clicks on.

These types of technologies, though, aren’t cheap – and currently make it difficult to move these devices into widespread public use, particularly in the book publishing world.

But physical books may not be its future form factor.

It may instead be a room – or “interactive narrative playspace” – in which a child creates his own adventure, such as KidsRoom, begun years ago at the MIT Media Laboratory.

“Our reliance on a physical book provides some limitations on the type of stories that can be told,” says Billinghurst of HIT Lab NZ in an email. “Although of course it still provides traditional writers an exciting new medium to work in.”

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