University researcher invents virtual costume masks

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

virtual cat mask
Even when a person moves their head to the side, the mask moves with their face.

Halloween is becoming more and more high-tech, judging by awesome inventions like the iWound app that uses smartphones and tablets to animate costumes. The latest devious creation comes from Mark Skwarek, a Polytechnic Institute of New York artist and researcher, whose 3D masks use virtual reality!

First, a person prints out a colorful barcode called a “marker” and places it on either their head or neck. When this marker is seen through regular physical eyes, they still look like barcodes, but when they’re viewed through the lens of a smartphone running a certain app, the mask is brought to life! Some of the different designs include cute kitties, cartoon ghosts, creepy ghouls, and wacky pumpkin heads.

Well, that whole process doesn’t seem very practical. Why the heck would I want to fumble around with my phone and hold it up awkwardly just to see a mask?

While it’s not ideal right now, Skwarek says his invention will really take off when smart eye gadgets such as Google Glass become more popular. In fact, these virtual masks are part of a bigger project to turn our real world into an “augmented reality” – which mixes technology with things we smell, touch, see, and feel in the real world.

This means, for example, that gamers won’t have to stay stuck in a room, staring at a flat TV all day. Instead, they can run around outside in neighborhood parks and landmarks, where the game designers have crafted game content that’s triggered by smartphone cameras. For example, a local outdoor fountain might be recognized by the GPS of an app, and suddenly space aliens could pop out of the water on your handheld screen!

Yeah, so holding up a mobile device may be annoying right now, but it’ll be worth it when you can win Google Glass costume competitions or battle it out with virtual enemies in “real” life.

Images courtesy of Mark Skwarek on YouTube.