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Wonka Vision Is About To Become A Reality (Sorta)

Portals is a research project that blurs the boundary between real and virtual worlds.
December 26, 2011, 4:04pm

As kids, we often dreamed about crawling into our television sets so we too could be on the TVs—kind of like that Wonka Vision scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, only less traumatic. Sadly, we were crushed to discover that’s not exactly how television works… but that may soon be changing.

A new, experimental prototype from Jayne Vidheecharoen, a grad student in Media Design at the Art Center College of Design, looks remarkably like our childhood fantasies come to life. Her Portals project allows you to stick your hand in the TV set and manipulate what’s on the screen. What’s more, when the Portal box is connected to the internet, multiple users located all over the world can affect objects and hang out together in the same virtual scene displayed on the screen. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out.


Unsatisfied with touch screens and gesture-controlled interfaces, Vidheecharoen searched for a different kind of interaction, a way to get behind the “glass wall” of the screen—she yearned to reach behind, under or inside the screen, "to complete the loop from the real world to the virtual world and back to the real world again".

The current version of Portals is little more than an elaborate DIY magic trick made up of foam core, duct tape, fabric scrap, a desk lamp, an end table, a borrowed monitor, and the cheapest webcam possible. Using a green screen and the ubiquitous virtual/real world of Google Streetview as her backdrop, Vidheecharoen is able to place and control physical objects on the virtual streets, like the toy soldiers in the demo video above. The result is both magical and impressive, grounded in both tangible reality and wondrous disbelief. Moreover, it seems to open a wormhole of new possibilities for user interface design and how we envision augmented reality.

Vidheecharoen prototype recently received funding for further development via Kickstarter and is part of her ongoing thesis project dedicated to the research and development of these augmented interfaces for public interaction with the virtual public spaces we now find ourselves inhabiting.