Legos, the resolutely physical set of toys that have remained popular for decades, are moving further into the digital world.
Owners of Android phones with the most recent version of Google LLC’s ARCore can now download a new augmented reality app launched today by Lego Group.
The magic of AR is that it turns smartphones and tablets into a “window” that allows software to overlay 3-D graphics over the real world. Lego BrickHeadz Builder AR uses this to allow users to take virtual versions of its product – tiny toy figures and building blocks – and interact with them virtually on their own living room floors or dining room tables.
“We are constantly looking at fun ways to enhance the physical play experience by blending it with digital play,” Sean McEvoy, vice president of digital games and apps at the Lego Group.
Within the BrickHeadz Builder AR app, users can access and place numerous different Lego-related creations including characters and objects. They also interact in interesting ways.
For example, there is a character named “DJ,” a woman with headphones, and there’s also an object that is a pair of speaker towers and an audio mixer table. Put these two together and you get music, as well as rewards.
“The new app is a miniature augmented reality creative ‘sandbox’ that aims to introduce children to various steps of creative play,” McEvoy said. He added that the app works “by adding layers of digital creativity, mixed with assisted building and cleverly constrained limits, which allows children to discover digital building and personalize their builds.”
Much of the app is access through a floating “magic book” that contains the various characters and objects on its pages – along with tutorials and information on challenges that provide rewards.
Although the book contains prebuilt characters and items, such as the DJ and speakers, it also enables users to customize characters with different heads and outfits or build their own objects with Lego building blocks.
Interest in AR apps has seen slow growth for several industries, especially since the launch of the phenomenon that is Pokemon Go in 2016. It is estimated that Pokemon Go exceeded $1.8 billion in revenue during those two years, according to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. It is by far the most popular AR game ever to be released and its success is credited with giving AR a mainstream boost.
Since then, other industries have sought to use AR to provide a hook for products and deliver entertainment.
A recent example includes Facebook Inc.’s foray into AR advertisements, currently being tested with a small group of beta users, would enable users to actually see how sunglasses and other products would look like when worn. Using the same technology that places Lego figures onto a living room table, it’s possible to make a smartphone into a screen that can allow people to put on sunglasses, earrings, shirts and other fashion accessories.
Lego’s BrickHeadz Builder AR app follows up a virtual reality version of the app that Lego released in October. That product also allows children, and adults, to build with virtual blocks and play with virtual Lego characters. Lego BrickHeadz Builder VR is also available of Android devices.
As for users of iOS devices, they are not entirely out of luck, the company released an augmented reality brick builder, Lego AR-Studio, in December and demonstrated at Worldwide Apple Developers Conference 2018.
The app itself is free and has no in-app purchases, but the phone will need to have the most recent version of ARCore and must be running on Android 8.0 or later on most phones, with a few only needing Android 7.0.