Augmented reality took a giant step toward the mainstream this week when toy maker Mattel announced that a new line of action figures based on the upcoming action sci-fi-film Avatar would incorporate augmented reality technology.
Each figure in the new line will come with a 3D web tag, or i-TAG, which consumers scan using a home computer's webcam. Scanning will reveal additional content on-screen such as biographical information or animated models which corresponds to the purchased product.
"The development of our Avatar toy line with the integration of the augmented reality technology marks an entirely new level of innovation in toys," Doug Wadleigh, vice president of Mattel's Boys Action Play Marketing group said. "Boys will be able to play with the Avatar figures and vehicles in ways that previously could only be imagined."
Mattel introduced the new toy line at Comic-con, currently taking place in San Diego.
Adding a twist to the augmented reality-laden toy line are added capabilities when two action figures are placed in front of a user's webcam. In that case the screen images of both figurines will interact with each other, says Mattel.
Mattel is teaming with augmented reality specialists Total Immersion, a France-based company which earlier this year partnered with sports card publisher Topps to bring augmented reality to baseball trading cards. (See the Topps video demo below which accompanied that announcement.)
The move by Mattel can be interpreted in at least two ways. The augmented reality initiative corresponds with the company's aggressive approach to tapping new technologies -- its BarbieGirls.com virtual world, launched in 2007, now has 18 million registered users according to researchers KZero. It also reinforces the toy industry's love affair with movie tie-ins. Analysts say rival toymaker Hasbro stands to make $600 million this year on Transformer-based toys alone.
Can the James Cameron-directed Avatar deliver the same upside for Mattel? It won't be long before the answer becomes clear: Mattel's Avatar-based action figures, creatures and vehicles will be available at retail outlets nationwide this October, while the film, from Fox, debuts December 19.