I Can Learn My ABCs: Augmented Reality for the Alphabet

I can learn my abcs logo

Have you seen the new augmented reality technology being used by everything from GE’s Smart Grid to John Mayer’s new album? With augmented reality, you’re able to interact with your computer by holding a special augmented reality marker in front of the webcam. When the augmented reality software recognizes the marker, it incorporates your picture and your input into the game, demonstration, or music video.

Augmented Reality requires only a webcam and a printer (and a computer, of course)

I was fascinated by augmented reality the first time I came across it. The technology enables a dynamic interaction between the virtual reality of your computer and the actual reality of the physical world. In a way, the concept is similar to the athletics and sports available on a Wii and the fighter pilot controls on Xbox, but all you need for an augmented reality application is a computer with built-in or attached webcam and a printer for printing the special augmented reality markers.

HD Interactive’s first augmented reality application

ABCs opening image

Our first application using augmented reality technology is I Can Learn My ABCs, which uses letters of the alphabet, each surrounded by special black squares, as the markers. I Can Learn My ABCs is a great tool for introducing or reviewing the letters of the alphabet. When a letter marker is shown to the webcam, I Can Learn My ABCs responds by showing both the upper- and lower-case forms of the letter, modeling the sound(s) the letter makes, and presenting a picture of an object that begins with that letter.

ABCs C is for Cat

This is all the basic stuff you’d expect in an alphabet-learning program, but the visual interaction component is captivating for small children. There are many educational games and websites for learning letters (my daughters and their cousins like Starfall), but I Can Learn My ABCs is the first application I’m aware of that responds directly to what the child shows the computer.
I Can Learn My ABCs is completely child-directed

ABCs Kids with the letter C

In most games, kids are prompted to type a letter after hints are given or questions are asked. In I Can Learn My ABCs, the child directs the action from the very beginning, sorting through the pile of augmented reality markers to select which letter she wants to look at and hear about first. I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet how much kids enjoy being in charge of a game, but my kids love the control that augmented reality gives them.

Easy to install and play

ABCS print letter cards

To play I Can Learn My ABCs, simply download the application at the Adobe AIR Marketplace (let your kids play with the free trial; then there is a one-time $5 fee). I Can Learn My ABCs installs locally on your computer; you don’t need an Internet connection to play the game once it’s installed. Print out the alphabet marker cards and cut them out, retaining the entire black square surrounding each letter.

Hangman-ABCs augmented reality marker-letter cards

The webcam recognizes the whole square, so be careful in both cutting and holding the letters in front of the webcam. (Set your printer on a high-quality setting, as the black background helps the program recognize each letter marker.) When playing, make sure the entire black square is visible in the camera’s view.

If you don’t have a webcam, I Can Learn My ABCs will automatically switch to keyboard play and respond to keystrokes of the letters the same way it does to the augmented reality markers.

Let me warn you: be sure you don’t need your computer for awhile, or that you start your kids playing on a family computer, because once they start, you’ll hear a lot of “just one more, Daddy, please.”

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