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Disney's Crazy New Tech Brings Coloring Books To Life

That elephant you just colored is now a 3-D cartoon character, prancing around your iPad.

In the age of iPads and apps, coloring books are evolving from the go-to distraction for kids into a hobby for mindful adults. But Disney Research's latest invention—bringing coloring books to life through augmented reality—might make the children's version cool again.

As Disney's team—based in Zurich—notes, coloring books provide children one of their earliest opportunities to be creative. Unfortunately, they also look boring and unexciting compared to the myriad screens and gadgets competing for a child's attention. They believe the key to getting kids coloring again is to leverage augmented reality (AR). By give coloring books the allure of electronics, this analog/digital partnership encourages children to express their creative side.

As a child fills in a cartoon character on the page, the app—making use of the camera on a smartphone or tablet—scans the colors and patterns they create to fill in a 3-D animated model of that same character within the app. Since a drawing is 2-D, the algorithm can also intelligently extrapolate patterns and color to parts of the 3-D model otherwise unrepresented in the drawing—for example, by coloring an elephant's back the same color as its front.

Presented at the IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality last month, Disney's AR coloring book is just a research project for now, but it's easy to see how this could be marketed to children. Just imagine a coloring book for a Pixar movie that lets you color the characters any way you want, then use this technology to insert those new designs into the film!

You can read Disney's paper on its AR coloring book technology here.