Unmissable visual technology trends

Panasonic Connect’s Chad Kunimoto explains how new visual tech is bridging the engagement gap at attractions around the world

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The game industry’s US$180 billion haul in 2021 dwarfed the movie and music businesses combined. Now, with game studios further expanding their IP universes into themed entertainment, the consumer’s fascination with interactive entertainment couldn’t be clearer. Audiences are demanding a level of involvement in their experience that was unimaginable 10 years ago.

From retail, art, and edutainment to museums, LBE, and live performance, interactivity is everywhere. This is because it draws people out of themselves and into the moment. It’s among the most requested elements of attraction designers, and both the tech and expertise required to integrate content into spatial design are rising to meet ambitious creative visions.

Immersive projection is a time-proven way to build dynamic worlds that become interactive when paired with third-party sensors and software to detect motion, guest location, and even retinal movement.

Increasingly, the guests’ own devices can also add AR layers over objects or digital backgrounds. Interaction is triggered via technologies such as NFC, IR, GPS, or iBeacon. Projectors have always played a supporting role in these interactive multisensory experiences. But now, with new motion-tracking projection tech and UST zoom lenses coming to market, they’re taking the lead.


Tracking projection mapping changes the game

Technology enabling projection onto moving objects has existed for years. However, conventional systems can be tricky to set up and calibrate and there are limits to their performance. Panasonic Connect’s ongoing research into high-speed projection has yielded 240 Hz production models and a real-time tracking projection-mapping SDK (Software Development Kit). This has made it possible to merge digital content with analogue movement without lag for the first time.

The ready-to-use software converts the moving object’s position, as captured by the IR camera, into XY coordinates for the projector with an input-to-display latency of less than 5 ms for the projector. Since the object’s position updates 240 times per second, projected content follows the object smoothly without blurring.

The system allows stage performers to move spontaneously without needing to memorize a pre-produced program. Instead, content reacts to them. Guests can participate in immersive VR-like environments without headgear. Plus, the system is easy to set up with little calibration required.

Ken Mashitani is a key engineer involved in the development of an immersive high-speed projection system at Panasonic Connect. He says that the technology has opened new horizons in the world of interactive entertainment.

“We have always believed that the age of interactive real-time content is coming,” he asserts. “The term ‘interactive content’ has yet to gain citizenship outside of certain types of content, such as games. I believe that applications such as the Meta Gallery Exhibit at Seoul Arts Center in South Korea are born from the imagination of creators and performers, and all have potential. I believe we can be a driving force behind an era in which 240 Hz will eventually become the norm.”

Applications for the 240 Hz tracking projection-mapping technology seem limitless. It can be used in everything from sports simulators and dark rides to stage, concert, and gallery showcases. Opportunities for low-latency tracking projection-mapping technology will continue to expand as the market shifts from simple viewing to experiential value. This could possibly even spawn new sports and activities in the process.

Immersive projection: building worlds from light

The depth, colour, and contrast of laser projection have become so realistic that guests can now engage with places far out of reach, from the remote African wilderness to the surface of the moon. Native 4K projection has pushed the boundaries by creating overwhelmingly realistic worlds out of empty white space, like something from The Matrix.

The immersive new Illuminarium attractions in Las Vegas and Atlanta in the United States are compelling examples of what Native 4K projection, multisensory elements, and interactive content can deliver in an otherwise empty room.

Meanwhile, in Australia, ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) took a similar digital-based approach for Wonderland. This exhibition took visitors through the looking glass using interactive content mapped onto walls, floors, furniture, and tea sets. Projection helped make the event among ACMI’s most shared on social media. Guests were queuing up around the block to see it.

Get up close and personal

Ultra-short-throw lenses allow guests to interact with images without casting a shadow on the screen. Installers have embraced newly evolved zoom lenses for 1-Chip and 3-Chip DLP and 3LCD platforms thanks to their ease of installation, zero offset capability, and wide adjustment. They allow guests to approach close to the screen and interact with projected content in groups, thanks to vast image sizes and shadow-free design.

Lenses with zero offset remove unsightly gaps at the image’s top and bottom, heightening immersion. Meanwhile, glass lens elements resist focus aberration caused by fluctuating temperatures.

Mapped in extraordinary detail with UST lenses, visitors to Discovery Centre can tap points of interest to learn about each location

Some mesmerizing examples in the edutainment field featuring these lenses are appearing all over the world. For example, at the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre outside Sydney, Australia. This attraction uses layers of satellite imagery, volumetric mapping, and interactive content to allow guests to explore a fantastically detailed and immersive projection of the catchment area.

Furthermore, the lenses make it possible to install projectors in tight spaces. This means that previously “dead” areas can be transformed into features.

O&M can make or break your attraction

Sports simulation has taken off post-pandemic. When combined with sensors and software, projection is able to deliver a completely immersive interactive experience at a relatively low cost.

Since the projectors must operate continuously for long periods, operators say they look for products that deliver the most efficient performance to reduce O&M (Operation and Maintenance) costs and ensure the attraction delivers the requisite image quality for an immersive experience.

Golf simulation is a big hit. Some operators are reporting a five-fold increase in inquiries during the pandemic.

Combine the best of both worlds

Projection is increasingly enhancing performances featuring live actors on the stage or inside the attraction itself to deliver realistic and immersive content they can interact with. Antwerp Zoo’s 175th-anniversary celebrations harnessed virtual representations to fill a staging role that might once have been filled by live animals.

Projectors play a similar role at Zukan Museum in Ginza, Tokyo. Here, they allow children to interact with exotic wildlife, bringing the popular NEO animal encyclopedia series to life.

This overview has only scratched the surface of what is possible. But it’s clear that projection technology holds tremendous potential for creating never-before-seen experiences that engage visitors more deeply. For information on how to fit these interactive technologies into your spatial design, please click here or send an email.

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