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DreamPlay app a new leap in AR, not part of Disney Infinity project, say creators

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The next-generation of augmented reality technology may make the QR code and AR marker cards obsolete. While the AR features of handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita largely depend on physical cards printed with specific patterns, new software from Nantworks and JAKKS Pacific represents an impressive leap forward.

DreamPlay, announced at CES 2013 earlier this week, uses advanced object recognition and cloud-based technology to interpret real-world objects and spawn virtual versions in apps and games.

We met with JAKKS Pacific and DreamPlay/Nantworks at CES to see their augmented reality magic in action and walked away extremely impressed.

In one demonstration, a DreamPlay representative directed an iPad camera at a mock retail shelf stocked with Disney Princess toys. The camera was able to recognize the toy, a Tinkerbell doll, even in its plastic packaging. Onscreen, the Tinkerbell came to life as an animated 3D model that then engaged with other toys nearby and even interacted with a play set further down the shelf.

A second demo showed DreamPlay's technology working with a moving object instead of a static toy hanging on a rack. Pointing the iPad camera at a pair of toy bongo drums, DreamPlay summoned forth a three-dimensional model of Sebastian from Disney's The Little Mermaid. The cartoon lobster banged away on the drums, moving smoothly in tandem with the drums as a DreamPlay rep lifted, rotated and tilted the toy.

The potential video game opportunities available from real-world object recognition are intriguing.

Those two technical efforts were both instances of recognizing an image in two dimensions — a photo of Tinkerbell and the flat tops of two bongo drums — but DreamPlay is also capable of recognizing full, three dimensional objects. In the final DreamPlay demonstration, a rep focused an iPad camera on a bright pink house, again spawning a 3D model of the house onscreen. The virtual version was surrounded by extra flourishes: vines, flowers and a lush garden.

The AR version of that doll house featured a hint of gameplay, a Whac-A-Mole-style game in which mushrooms burst forth from the garden. Tapping the iPad screen stamped them down, to the delight of an onscreen fairy.

While the gameplay promise of DreamPlay seems limited to simple interaction with 3D objects, the potential video game opportunities available from real-world object recognition are intriguing. The cloud-based data associated those toys — JAKKS reps say they can store and quickly look up millions of objects in a database — combined with GPS data offer even greater interactive opportunities.

Reps for DreamPlay say the augmented reality app is not part of Disney's other toy-based project, Disney Infinity, which was rumored to incorporate physical toys in the vein of Activision's Skylanders series.

DreamPlay development is currently focused on iOS and Android platforms, reps say. The company has no plans to bring the augmented reality tech to AR-powered devices like Nintendo's 3DS and Wii U or Sony's PlayStation Vita.

DreamPlay is expected to launch sometime during October 2013.

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