Maia comes to Manchester: Exploring mixed realities
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As our week of Digital Creativity approaches, why not find out more about our first resident artist, Ignacio Pecino of RecursiveArts!

In March, Ignacio visited us at the NOVARS Research Centre to show us the beginnings of his new project, Maia - a synchronisation between augmented and virtual reality. He demonstrated the software to me in Studio 1 at NOVARS, where he placed a virtual speaker in the room. The app recognises flat planes in an environment (ie. the floor) which you can then attach objects and then view them in 3D either in the real world, or a VR version.

Spot the difference: real or virtual speaker? Also, Ignacio's face is apprently a flat plane...

Placing virtual objects in real space has a whole load of interesting functions. Imagine leaving messages for friends for them to hunt for later, or making contact with people in the same 'space' from the other side of the world, all without leaving any physical trace or mark on the real environment. (It also makes us engage with the space around us in order to communicate, instead of just looking at our phones!) Its uses reach beyond the purely social - it would be useful for advertising and information. For example, restaurants could present menus, photos and reviews on their outside walls for passers by to peruse.

The app also has educational potential. Imagine being able to point your phone/iPad at a building and instantly read about its history, and the people who made an impact there, on the building's very walls? It was for this purpose that Ignacio showed me the places around the University that he was planning on creating in virtual reality to synchronise with the real world.

Ignacio outside the Coupland Building, where Alan Turing worked while he was at Manchester. This building is one of many on the street with a fascinating history!

Coupland Street is lined with buildings of historical significance. It's also a main artery to reach important University buildings, nearby high schools, and Oxford Road itself, so there is alot of foot traffic. It would make the daily walk into uni much more interesting if you could learn about the city and socialise via augmented reality as you go. Even with the tiny blue plaques highlighting buildings of interest on the street, I know plenty of students (myself included) who have taken years to realise their significance.

Flat walls like this WWII plaque next to Whitworth Hall could have a digitally overlaid screen to play informational videos or show photos.

Another highlight of this software is its accessibility. I could leave a message for a friend on Coupland Street while I was actually there, and they could access it via virtual reality from hundreds of miles away. Maia's virtual reality models could also connect two places which are physically very far away with a single virtual street. Physical spaces seem closer than ever before, and it doesn't matter whether you're in the real or virtual space - they are the same!

Outside the Manchester Museum on Coupland Street. Wouldn't you be more enticed to go in to see the T-Rex skeleton if there was one projected on the walls outside?

Ignacio is presenting his work on Maia during our Festival of Digital Creativity. Come to the John Thaw Studio Theatre at 11:00 on Tuesday 26th June to see his work in action! You can find a more detailed explanation of Ignacio's exciting project here, and check out some of his other projects on the RecursiveArts website.

Sarah Keirle

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