Not Your Old Coloring Book: Augmented Reality is Changing the Way Kids Color

In the last few years, 3D technology has gotten quite a boost thanks to advances in technology that can give otherwise flat images some depth. To wit: There’s been a resurgence in 3D movies, Facebook spent $1.5 billion on a 3D headset maker called Oculus Rift, and we even have 3D printing.

But what makes so much of this so fascinating is that it's become consumerized. You don't need thousands of dollars to attain 3D realism; it can be done with hardware bought in your local electronics store. One of the most exciting innovations is getting even closer to home as augmented reality adds 3D modeling to kids' coloring books.

Children have been taught drawing in kindergarten and early elementary school for decades. But what to do after the drawing was done, beyond stick it on the refrigerator? Well, two new tablet/smartphone apps are giving these flat drawings a chance to be seen in three dimensions and given life, and a third adds a further twist.

The first app to shake things up was colAR, developed at the Human Interface Technology Lab in New Zealand and now under development by Puteko Ltd. TechCrunch called colAR "the coloring book of the future," and it wasn't hyperbole.

You print out a coloring page from colAR’s gallery and fill it in, using traditional colored pencils or crayons and your own imagination. (That's the one sticking point with colAR; you have to use its templates. It can't take any old 2D drawing and make it 3D.)

Once you’re done, load up the app on your Android or iOS device, hold it over the drawing so the camera picks it up and hit the Play button. From there, the app takes over, turning your artwork into a 3D image, using the coloring as you drew it. The drawings have minor animations as well. Planes fly around, a dragon flaps its wings and hovers, and birds hop around pecking at the ground.

One year after colAR, a second app called Chromville came along and upped the ante with some new features. Like colAR, you have to print out templates and fill them in, then hold your smartphone or tablet over the image for a 3D version to be generated. However, there are differences. Chromville is available on Android; colAR is not. Second, Chromville adds simple games for the artwork that kids create, so they get to actually play a game around their drawing instead of just looking at it.

Finally, there is Lego Fusion, from the makers of the Lego building blocks. The company offers four Lego Fusion sets: Town Master, Battle Towers, Create and Race, and Resort Designer. Each kit consists of more than 200 Lego pieces, a frame on which to build some kind of building, and a free downloadable app for iOS or Android.

The frame is much like the pre-drawn templates used by colAR and Chromville, in that it provides the lines in which to create a building. Then the child takes a picture of the Lego art with their tablet or phone and the 2D building becomes 3D in the digital device. There is also a simple game connected to this, where kids can move through a virtual world that requires them to continue building with the Lego model to progress in the game.

These apps aren't just fun, they engage children to tap into their creativity, both in how they design the 2D drawings and then in how they use them in an interactive 3D world. These applications are new; all have appeared within the last year. Imagine what we'll have in three to five years, as the developers advance their apps and the devices get more powerful.

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