Raleigh Debuts Augmented Reality

Google chooses Raleigh for the first AR mural in the country.

Story and banner photo by Lipsa Shah

All other photos courtesy of Google

Google and the Raleigh Murals Project unveiled their first augmented reality mural in downtown Raleigh in mid-October. You can find this exceptional piece at 410 South Salisbury Street. After presenting traditional murals throughout the U.S.—in cities such as Kansas City, Kansas; Austin, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; and Nashville, Tennessee—Google needed more. Google chose Raleigh to be the first city for an AR mural after considering exactly what the city of Raleigh signifies: a massive technology hub and a center for innovation, along with some of the best traditional and contemporary artwork in a market. Although augmented reality has been used in a few collaborations including the Star Wars movies, this is the first time AR has been featured at this scale in a public venue.

Virtual reality entails putting a helmet on over your head and experiencing a completely digital world. The world you see during virtual reality is not visible to the outside world. In February 2018, Google launched ARCore, which enabled users to experience the world in a whole new way.

Augmented reality inserts digital objects into the physical world by cleverly using the camera on your phone to enhance what you can see. One of the biggest challenges has been the precision of augmentation—pinpointing something in the physical space and making sure it stays in the exact same location while digital objects emerge around it. The level of devices that are available now has made it easier to be more accurate.

The Google team called upon hometown artist Taylor White to make their vision a reality. White, whose artwork is mainly focused on human action, explains that this project was a fun privilege for her.

The towering piece on Salisbury Street is her biggest work to date, and also her most challenging. White went back and forth with engineers to create something that would maximize the piece as a stand-alone mural, but also wouldn’t overcomplicate the technical aspect. The mural gave White the freedom to paint whatever she wanted while also pushing her beyond her limits as a painter.

Engineers are trained to make products work, while artists are constantly challenging themselves to bring their pieces to life. The joining of art and technology helps emphasize how the audience views artwork and their reactions. This technology also allows artists to bring their work to a completely new dimension. Not only is this an exciting time for White and a huge milestone in her career, it is also an evolutionary time for the community of Raleigh as a whole. Google hopes to give back to the community through this piece. For local residents as well as for North Carolinians in general, the debut of an AR mural in our city is a huge deal. Years ago you would have seen this come about in San Francisco, maybe L.A. or Manhattan, but not in a smaller city in the South. This project symbolizes a true departure from the ways of the past, and it is only the beginning for augmented reality: Imagine walking down the street and being able to hold your phone up to a restaurant to read a review before walking inside. Or “placing” a couch in your living room before committing to buy it.

Better yet, imagine trying on an outfit while online shopping, all in the comfort of your own home. We should be incredibly proud to have augmented reality introduced first in Raleigh.

This fall, Google Fiber is launching several murals in the Triangle, although the others will not feature the AR aspect. In addition to the AR mural in Raleigh, the tech giant has a mural coming soon in Durham as well as one in Cary, which Triangle artist David Eichenberger will create on the parking lot side of The Cary Theater.

What’s next for Taylor White? She will travel to Australia for a six-week residency, has a gallery show in Chicago that at presstime was slated to open in late October, and is working with the town of Wake Forest to develop a new mural expected to go up in May of next year.

For social sharing, check out hashtag #CreatedWithGoogleFiber on Google Fiber’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

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