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Through the Looking Glass: The Use of Lenses as an Interface Tool for Augmented Reality

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Stephen N. Spencer The University of Washington Program Chairs Alan Chalmers Hock Soon Seah Publisher ACM Press New York, NY, USA
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a) MagicBook AR. b) Immersive VR View.
Figure 1: The MagicBook supports AR and VR.
Through the Looking Glass:
The use of Lenses as an interface tool for Augmented Reality interfaces.
Julian Looser1
HIT Lab NZ
University of Canterbury, NZ
Mark Billinghurst2
HIT Lab NZ
University of Canterbury, NZ
Andy Cockburn3
Computer Science Department
University of Canterbury, NZ
Abstract123
In this paper we present new interaction techniques for virtual
environments. Based on an extension of 2D MagicLenses, we
have developed techniques involving 3D lenses, information
filtering and semantic zooming. These techniques provide users
with a natural, tangible interface for selectively zooming in and
out of specific areas of interest in an Augmented Reality scene.
They use rapid and fluid animation to help users assimilate the
relationship between views of detailed focus and global context.
As well as supporting zooming, the technique is readily applied
to semantic information filtering, in which only the pertinent
information subtypes within a filtered region are shown. We
describe our implementations, preliminary user feedback and
future directions for this research.
Keywords
MagicLenses, Augmented Reality, interaction, transitional
interfaces, semantic zooming.
1. Introduction
We have created a compelling implementation of 3D
MagicLenses in an Augmented Reality (AR) setting.
MagicLenses are semi-transparent user interface elements that
apply transformations to whatever content lies beneath them [1].
We have developed novel techniques that employ these lenses to
help users navigate, select objects and filter information in
virtual environments. Our techniques are based around one
universal tool: a hand-held magnifying glass.
AR interfaces fuse the real and virtual worlds together by
accurately overlaying virtual content on a view of the real world.
We have chosen this setting to implement our lenses for several
reasons. Firstly, we have significant experience in this area.
Secondly, we plan to extend our work to include collaboration,
for which AR is a promising platform, as shown in [2], [3], [4]
and others. Thirdly, AR interfaces promote the use of tangible
props for interaction. Our lens tool is designed to mimic the feel
of a real magnifying glass and is controlled via a tracked paddle.
At this stage we present our lens tools within a single-user
environment, but discuss their exciting potential within
collaborative and transitional virtual environments, spanning the
continuum from reality to virtuality, such as the MagicBook.
The MagicBook is an example of one of our own collaborative,
transitional interfaces [5]. It is a real book that allows its readers
to smoothly transition between reality, augmented reality and
virtual reality. The book can be read and enjoyed on its own, but
1 email: julian.looser@hitlabnz.org
2 email: mark.billinghurst@hitlabnz.org
3 email: andy@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz
with the aid of a head-mounted display, 3D scenes pop out of the
pages in an AR view (Figure 1a). At the press of a button, the
reader can ‘fly into’ the scene and explore it from an immersive
first-person perspective (Figure 1b).
Multiple users can participate simultaneously. To readers in AR,
immersed users appear as small virtual characters within the
scene. To each other, these users appear as life-sized characters
in VR.
In this paper we describe our implementations of 3D
MagicLenses and how they differ from, and extend, other work.
We have created two applications to demonstrate the utility of
our approach and report on the favourable feedback these
interfaces have received. Furthermore, we discuss how our lens
work can be exploited in the MagicBook interface to enhance its
transitions between AR and VR.
2. Related Work
MagicLenses
MagicLenses were first introduced by Bier et al. [1] as a focus-
and-context technique for traditional 2D interfaces. A
MagicLens is a movable, semi-transparent user interface element
that can change the representation of data shown beneath it.
MagicLenses can be used for magnification as well as a wealth
of other effects, such as previewing image effects (blur, for
example) and level-of-detail (data through the lens is rendered at
a higher resolution). Several lenses can be combined to produce
composite effects where they intersect.
The MagicLens metaphor was extended to three dimensions by
Viega et al.[6]. They implemented two types of 3D lens: a ‘flat’
lens that projected a volume of influence into the scene, and a
volumetric lens that affected content falling within the space of a
cube. Both approaches exploited hardware support for clipping
planes which made it possible to divide the scene into lensed and
un-lensed spaces in real-time.
2
Figure 3: A volumetric lens configured to render only
the internal framing of the building.
Spatially Extended Anchor Mechanisms (SEAMs) are a
navigation technique that provide portals between virtual
environments [7]. A SEAM can be used to connect remote,
virtual locations in such a way that the user can both look into
the destination environment, and also venture there by moving
through the SEAM. The ability to see into a different
environment made it possible to implement 3D MagicLenses
using the SEAMs framework. This was the approach taken by
Fuhrmann and Gröller, who used both flat and volumetric lenses
in their work on 3D flow visualisation techniques [8]. Flow data
within the lens region was rendered in greater detail than the
surrounding data, which could optionally be hidden completely.
They claimed the lenses were useful for their visualisation
purposes, but were difficult to control using a traditional mouse.
Stoev et al. [9] used MagicLenses in a virtual environment in
which the view from a virtual camera was rendered onto a
handheld pad. The virtual camera could be positioned at will
within the scene, and various tools operated ‘through-the-lens’;
applying their effects onto the remote object whose image was
selected on the pad. Objects in the lens view could be hidden to
make these manipulations easier.
This prior research illustrates how MagicLenses have been used
to provide an area of focus in a user interface while maintaining
context. There are numerous other methods to this end,
including distorted views, speed-dependent automatic
zooming [10] and providing global views such as thumbnails
and mini-maps.
Augmented Reality
As Milgram points out [11], interfaces can be classified
according to the proportion of their content that is real versus
how much is computer-generated, with Reality and Virtual
Reality (VR) being the extreme cases (see Figure 2). Between
these poles lie Mixed Reality (MR) interfaces, further classified
as Augmented Reality (AR) and Augmented Virtuality (AV).
Figure 2: Milgram’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum.
Augmented Reality interfaces are notable in that they involve
the overlay of virtual imagery on the real world. AR has found
use in a wide-range of applications, including manufacturing,
medicine and entertainment.
Transitional Interfaces
Although there are many examples of interfaces that lie on the
Reality-Virtuality continuum, few of these support transitions
between reality, virtuality and points in-between.
One of the first interfaces to explore transitions in a fully
immersive virtual environment was Worlds In Miniature
(WIM) [12]. The user in a VR environment holds a small virtual
version of the environment in which they are immersed. This
provides the user with an exocentric view of their surroundings
that can be used as a proxy for object selection and
manipulation, and as an aid for navigation. This interface
showed the value of transitions as manipulation and navigation
tools, although in this case entirely in an immersive VR setting.
Koleva et al. investigated transitions between reality and virtual
reality by creating real and virtual worlds connected by mixed-
reality borders [13]. Their work focused on live performances in
which the audience witnessed the illusion of seamless transitions
which were facilitated by hidden ante-chambers and portals such
as rain-curtains.
Kiyokawa’s work on seamless viewmode switching is the most
relevant to our own research. The interface allowed two users to
collaborate at different scales around a virtual scene [14]. When
both users shared a common life-sized body scale, the virtual
scene was shown in an augmented reality view so that each user
could see the world around them as well as the virtual imagery.
When a user scaled themselves independently, the interface
reverted to virtual reality in which each user saw the other as a
correctly scaled avatar. Either user could initiate a transition that
would smoothly adjust their body scale, and therefore transition
between AR and VR. In their work, handheld magnetic trackers
were used to provide gesture input and support the scaling
between AR and VR modes.
3. Our 3D Lens Implementation
In this section we describe our implementation of 3D
MagicLenses. We have implemented both flat and volumetric
lenses in C++ using OpenGL. All our applications run in real-
time on what we consider consumer-level hardware. An
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti-4800 SE graphics card was used during
development but the code is not card-specific.
Rendering the Lenses
Volumetric Lenses
We render volumetric lenses by means of clipping planes using
the method described by Viega et al. [6]. A clipping plane
divides the scene into two half-spaces, one which is kept and one
which is discarded. Modern graphics cards support clipping
planes in hardware. There are six clipping planes that define the
OpenGL view frustum as well as at least six additional planes
that are available for general use by the programmer. Using six
of these planes it is possible to construct a cube whose volume
can be rendered differently to the rest of the scene (see Figure
3).
3
a) Stencil buffer contents. White indicates the area of
the lens.
b) The area outside the lens is rendered.
c) The area within the lens is rendered with some
effect. In this case, the shell of the building is
removed, exposing the framing inside.
d) The magnifying glass model is rendered last.
Figure 4: The process of rendering a flat lens.
Rendering the content inside the cube is simple. All planes are
enabled such that they discard all regions outside the cube. The
scene is then rendered with the desired effect applied. This may
involve hiding certain objects, or using a particular rendering
style such as wireframe. Rendering the content outside the cube
is somewhat more complicated. Simply reversing the direction
of the clipping planes will not invert the rendered areas.
Clipping planes in OpenGL extend to infinity so that two
parallel, outward facing clipping planes will clip the entire scene
(see Figure 5). To overcome this problem, the scene must be
rendered six times, once as each individual clipping plane is
active on its own.
a) Inward facing planes.
Object is clipped.
b) Outward facing planes.
Entire scene is clipped.
Figure 5: Rendering using clipping planes. The arrows indicate
the side of the plane that is kept. Diagonally shaded areas are
clipped while solid areas remain. (Figure adapted from [6]).
Fuhrmann and Gröller describe a technique without this
inefficiency [8], but it results in geometry that should be visible
behind the lens not being rendered. In our applications the
inefficiency has no noticeable effect on performance. However,
we are currently using models with low polygon counts and as
scene complexity increases performance will degrade
exponentially.
Flat Lenses
As mentioned, Viega et al. [6] showed how to implement both
volumetric and flat 3D MagicLenses. Our method for creating
flat lenses differs substantially from that of [6], and is more
closely related to that of [7]. We created flat lenses by using the
OpenGL stencil buffer to mask out lensed and un-lensed areas of
the screen. The mask is created by rendering the lens object
itself into the stencil buffer resulting in a value of 1 where the
lens exists and a value of 0 elsewhere (Figure 4a). The scene is
then rendered normally in areas equal to 0 (Figure 4b) and with
some effect applied in areas equal to 1 (Figure 4c). Finally the
lens itself and its accompanying handle are drawn on top (Figure
4d).
This technique made the lens more flexible than using clipping
planes, where the number of available planes limits the shape of
the lens, typically to a quadrangle. Our method supports lenses
of any shape and initially we have used a circular lens mounted
inside a magnifying glass model.
4
We feel that the magnifying glass is a fitting tool in our research
as it is universally recognised as a tool for investigation; users
understand that they should peer through the lens to examine
things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. With a virtual
magnifying glass we can extend this notion to allow the user to
see through objects and to see the objects represented differently
through the lens.
4. Augmented Reality Interaction Techniques
Afforded by Lenses
Focusing for now on our flat lens implementation, we have
developed ways in which the lens can be used to accomplish a
Magnification: As a tool for examining distant objects up close,
or close objects in greater detail.
Object Selection and Manipulation: As a tool for selecting and
manipulating virtual objects in view.
Information Filtering: As a tool for filtering the information
shown in the AR and VR views, either by selectively hiding
Here we describe these techniques and possible extensions to
them.
Using the Lens for Magnification
The virtual lens can be used in the same way as one would
expect to use a real lens: for magnification. However, in the real-
world, when we use a magnifying glass we can only control the
scale of what we see through the lens. In a virtual environment,
we have the ability to scale the surrounding environment as well.
At the press of a button, the user can initiate a smooth zoom of
the surrounding scene to match the magnification they have
selected through the lens. This technique is similar to
Kiyokawa’s seamless viewmode switching [14], but rather than
having two users who can scale themselves independently
around a 3D scene and also transition to their partners scale,
there is a single user in control of both scale settings.
This mode of interaction would be useful when examining a
model, such as a virtual historical artifact. When a particular
point of interest was discovered, the researcher could use their
magnifier to zoom and study that point. If the surrounding area
also appeared to be interesting, then the researcher could
effortlessly scale the entire scene to the selected zoom level.
Using the Lens for Object Selection and Manipulation
The lens defines an area of focus within the scene. We can base
object selection on whether an object lies partly or completely
within this area. This is essentially ray-casting if we select the
objects targeted by the center of the lens, or cone-casting [15] if
we select all objects within the lens space. However, because the
user peers through the lens to make the selection, we predict that
selection will be easier than with conventional implementations
of either of these techniques.
Once an object is selected, we can use the lens to perform a
variety of operations on the object. For example, we could bind
the object’s scale to the magnification of the lens, such that as
the user magnifies, it is now only the selected object that
changes size. Similarly, we could bind the object’s position to
the lens so that the user could move the object to a new location
simply by looking at that location through the lens. This
technique could be coupled with a cloning operation so that
multiple instances of the object could be ‘stamped’ throughout
the scene.
Using the Lens for Information Filtering
One of the fundamental characteristics of a MagicLens is the
ability to present a different representation of the underlying
data. Our lenses can reduce the complexity of a user’s view by
removing data that is irrelevant to them during their current task.
For example, a complete model of a building might contain 3D
data for dozens of different systems, such as electrical wiring,
water supply and fire-escapes. It is unlikely that a single user
will require, or be able to comprehend, all datasets at once, so
some form of filtering is required. Using the lens, the user can
select which datasets are shown both inside and outside the lens
area. The filtering criteria can be changed in real-time so that
different aspects of the data can be explored.
An obvious use of this ability is to cut away the surface of an
object to expose its inner workings. This method of viewing is
the foundation of the immensely popular Incredible Cross-
Sections series of books illustrated by Stephen Biesty [16].
These books contain cutaway drawings of historical buildings,
advanced machines and many other interesting items. We
believe that our augmented reality lenses are the ideal platform
for advancing this popular concept into an interactive, three-
dimensional setting.
Julier et al. tackled the problem of clutter in augmented reality
interfaces and developed an algorithm for automatically filtering
information [17]. Another approach is to dynamically alter the
view based on the current magnification. This technique is
known as semantic zooming [18]. As the user magnifies a
particular area, additional information specific to that area can
be incorporated into the view. Showing this data all the time
would clutter the interface so it is only added in as it becomes
relevant.
Using the Lens Combinations
Our lens operations can be chained together in interesting ways
to accomplish complex tasks. For example, a lens could be used
to filter a dataset to show only the objects of interest and then we
could change to a selection mode and use the same lens to select
one of the filtered objects. Similarly, once we have selected an
object, the lens magnification tool could be used to zoom the
view so that the object is at the desired scale.
Sample Applications
In order to explore how lens techniques could be used in an AR
interface we created two sample applications: a globe
visualisation and a virtual house demonstration.
In both of these demonstrations the user held a virtual lens over
an AR view of a virtual model. The AR tracking was provided
by the ARToolKit library [19], computer vision software which
can calculate a real camera position from a set of one or more
fiducial markers.
5
a) Chlorophyll data.
Credit: Provided by the SeaWiFS Project,
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and
ORBIMAGE.
b) The Earth at night.
Credit: C. Mayhew and R. Simmon
(NASA/GSFC). NOAA/NGDC, DMSP Digital
Archive.
c) NASA Blue Marble imagery.
Credit: Reto Stöckli, NASA/ Goddard Space
Flight Center.
Figure 7: Examining various datasets on the globe. Each picture above illustrates a different dataset but the same geographical location.
(Images may be difficult to discern without colour.)
Using ARToolKit, the 3D scene is rendered on top of a large
grid of markers. The lens is bound to a smaller marker attached
to a handheld trackball. This technique is known as paddle
interaction and is a common approach in AR interfaces, [20] for
example. The user can configure the effect they see applied
through the lens using the trackball’s controls. This tracking and
input arrangement is shown in Figure 6.
We use a video see-through AR technique which means that the
user wears a virtual reality headset with a small video camera
attached at the approximate position of their eyes. Each frame
from the camera is processed by a computer which overlays the
3D graphics on the image. The image is then displayed on the
Cy-Visor DH-4400VP and the camera used was a Creative
Webcam 5 USB.
Globe Demonstration
In the globe demonstration, users could cycle the lens through a
variety of worldwide datasets while maintaining a default view
outside the lens. This application presents a novel way to
visualise the wealth of global information available. For
example, Figure 7a shows chlorophyll data [21], Figure 7b
shows city light data [22] and Figure 7c shows NASA’s Blue
a) Base tracking grid or markers. b) Handheld trackball with attached marker.
c) Real view. d) Augmented view.
Figure 6: Tracking arrangement.
6
a) AR Scene b) Filtered View
Figure 8: The house demonstration with and without the lens visible.
Marble image: “the most detailed true-color image of the entire
Earth to date” [23]. There are literally dozens of additional data
sets that can be viewed in this way. Because standard maps are
centered on the prime meridian (the north-south line through
Greenwich, 0º longitude), it is a simple task to import new data
into the globe application. When the user has found a
particularly interesting dataset, they can apply it globally so that
it becomes the context rather than the focus.
House Demonstration
In the house demonstration, various components of a virtual
house model can be enabled or disabled through the lens. For
example, all parts of the house other than the internal wooden
framing can be turned off so that through the lens the user sees
the frame while outside the lens the complete house remains (see
Figure 8).
In practice, such a technique could allow people with diverse
skills and interests to efficiently collaborate around a design
project, such as a house or piece of hardware. Typically, a
builder would be interested in the structural details such as
framing and materials, as well as information relating to the
components and the order of construction. On the other hand, a
decorator may wish to be able to peer into the building and see
an entirely different view; one where furniture is displayed and
realistic lighting is rendered. Such a view would allow them to
make sensible choices as to how to decorate the building. Many
other views are possible for architects, real-estate agents,
electricians and so forth. Each view benefits from the focus and
of information filtering.
The ability to transition into a VR view allows users to explore
the environment from a first-person perspective, while still in
possession of their lens tool. Continuing the building scenario
from above, each user could navigate around the building while
still in possession of their lens tool. From this perspective they
could examine the interior of the building and still benefit from
the information filtering abilities of the lens.
User Feedback
Several people have used the applications and initial user
feedback has been very encouraging. Users from a variety of
backgrounds have described the systems as feeling natural, both
in terms of using the tangible prop as a magnifying glass and the
virtual content filtering. Several users have commented on how
applications like the globe demonstration would be perfect
educational tools, a sentiment we wholeheartedly agree with.
5. Discussion: Using Lenses in Transitional AR
Interfaces
Transitional interfaces allow users to move between points on
the Reality-Virtuality continuum (see Figure 2). The MagicBook
interface currently supports a smooth, but uncontrollable journey
from AR to VR. We believe that our work with 3D lenses can be
used to enhance this transition into a more powerful tool.
Ideally, the user will be able to select an arbitrary scale with
which to view the scene before them.
The user first focuses the lens on the item of interest and then
selects their preferred scale using the magnifier. When the image
in the lens matches their intended scale, the user presses a
button, at which stage the entire scene seamlessly animates,
either by growing or shrinking, to match that scale. If the user
has selected a scale other than 1:1, then the interface ceases to
operate in augmented reality and instead presents an entirely
virtual representation of the scene. In this virtual reality, the
scene is no longer treated as an object to be examined, but rather
an environment to be explored. The user can freely fly around
the virtual world or walk around it, depending on their currently
selected scale.
6. Conclusions and Future Work
We have implemented flat and volumetric 3D MagicLenses
within an augmented reality setting. The lenses allow users to
magnify content, select and manipulate objects, and customise
their view in a variety of useful ways. Although we plan to
implement more techniques based around the lens, our current
techniques form a useful set of tools. We have demonstrated two
compelling applications of this technology: a globe for
visualising and comparing global datasets, and a house model
that shows how the lens can reduce the complexity of a scene
and can be used to highlight particular features.
7
Informal feedback has told us that users find our interfaces
fascinating. We suggest that there is a significant opportunity to
exploit this technology in education and entertainment.
We plan a substantial amount of further work in this area.
We intend to integrate our new lens techniques with
the existing MagicBook interface, and to explore how
we can make transitions between AR and VR more
configurable.
We plan to utilise the lens techniques described in this
paper in the visualisation of more practical data such
as real geographical datasets. Using these new
applications we will run more rigorous user studies
and implement further interaction techniques based on
the lenses.
We plan to progressively incorporate more of the
original MagicLens concepts into our implementation.
For example, we wish to be able to combine multiple
lenses in augmented reality.
We believe MagicLenses have a lot to offer within virtual
environments, particular in augmented reality, where the use of a
tangible magnifying tool makes the MagicLens metaphor all the
more powerful.
Acknowledgements
MagicLenses™ is a Trademark of Xerox Corporation.
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• Reality
Reality on a WIM: Interactive Worlds in Miniature, Proceedings of CHI'95 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1995. R. Stoakley, M. J. Conway, and R. Pausch, Virtual