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This app can mix music while you mix drinks, and proves augmented reality can be fun

Augmented reality is one of those buzz phrases which was very popular several years ago, when it was usually attached to relatively worthless apps and games, which either simulated flying saucers attacking earth or vague attempts to overlay helpful information in a browser window. The intentions were good, but the tech just wasn’t there to make them anything other than novelties that rarely worked as described.

So what has changed? Recently, we spent some time at Somo Global, a mobile marketing firm in London, where we saw how augmented reality has advanced. Somo helps companies understand how mobile can enhance their business, but rather than producing dreary old apps we, as consumers, will never want to use, they’re geeks at heart, and like nothing more than fiddling around with the latest tech while developing cool apps.

AR Mixer is the best excuse for drinking yet

On arrival at Somo’s London offices, located moments away from the bustle of Piccadilly Circus, I was ushered into the “lab.” However, it wasn’t staffed by men in white coats, but stuffed with tablets, smartphones, consoles, and wearable tech. My host was Product Innovation Manager Naji El-Arifi, who was about to convince me augmented reality was something to get excited about again.

AR Mixer TabletThe app he showed me, which Somo calls AR Mixer, was proof that augmented reality can be technically impressive, exciting, and best of all, fun.

Picture this scenario: You’re having a party and want to play around with the music, so you line up a selection of bottles, some containing spirits and others soft drink mixers. You pull out your tablet or phone, and focus the camera on the bottles.

That’s when the music starts. Thanks to image recognition, Somo’s idea is to have each spirit bottle play a vocal track, while each mixer adds a beat, but the literal twist is being able to manipulate each track by turning the bottle or can around in front of the camera. A spinning record appears to show which one is playing, and by moving the camera closer or further away, the volume can be raised and lowered.

There’s no practical reason why you’d need this – until it gets accurate enough to make music using real world objects – but it’s a really fun tech demo and a sign of things to come.

AR Mixer worked seamlessly and the reaction time was lightning fast, from it recognizing the bottle to the adjustment of the audio as the bottle was twisted. Somo plans for the app to recognize 10 different drinks, but 20 is achievable in the near future.

Drink companies will love this as a way to sell booze, but AR Mixer has considerable potential in the real world. How about linking it up to Spotify, so you can assign the tracks your bottles play? Maybe an AR app can detect when a party is dying down and change the music to liven things up. Even more intriguingly, once Google opens up the software development kit for Glass, you may not even need to hold a tablet or phone to play at being a DJ. All possible in the future, according to Somo.

Augmented reality that works

Watching how AR Mixer recognized multiple objects,then reacted differently depending on their orientation, showed how far augmented reality apps have come, distancing themselves from the clunky gimmicks with which the tech has been associated in the past. The real sci-fi magic will happen when this kind of seamless augmented reality turns up as an app for Google Glass, or a similar device, bridging the gap between then and virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift.

For now, AR Mixer is a work in progress, and while it’s most likely to end up in the hands of a creative marketing team, there’s still hope it’ll come out as a standalone app you can use at your next party.

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