Unlike virtual reality, which transports wearers of VR headsets into other worlds, augmented reality brings digital ideas into the physical realm. Interior designers use the technology to visualize how a room would look filled with furniture before they buy it. Graphic designer use it to make silly filters on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Game developers use it to spawn 3D avatars in the user's own home. App developers are using it to make digital tools to measure and map real structures.
Up until now, augmented reality has projected things into open spaces, or stuck masks or animal ears onto moving faces. But one artist is working to change that. He wants his augmented reality designs to be something people wear in the world between physical and virtual: social media.
Zack Kroll, aka Bald Boy, through a series he calls SatARday, which runs every Saturday (hence the name), creates AR sneakers he gives out for free via Snapchat. There, users can use the filter to "wear" his designs. They stick to your feet as you walk, adapt to shadows and light changes and reflect whatever's nearby.
"Right now, the AR filters are a way of building community and having people understand the connection between the physical and digital world," he says. "There's no 'buying' attached to it right now, but in the very near future, once I get enough people accustomed to the technology and excited about the digital world, then I'll be selling wearables on OpenSea and other NFT marketplaces."
"Wearables," a term used in the NFT (non-fungible token) context to describe something only digital avatars can wear, don't come with real-world benefits. You can't walk around flexing your new NFT sneakers. Sure, you can implement them in some apps for posting on your social media profiles, but Kroll's existing project is a better look, in my opinion, at the future of digital fashion.
We all have our own avatars, whether we made them on Facebook or Reddit, Fortnite or NBA 2K. To an extent, they represent us, and soon we'll be able to dress them in outfits we'd actually wear, with the goal being to carry them from game t0 game, app to app and website to website. We're still a long ways away from realizing this goal, though. Right now, it feels nearly impossible, because this would require cross-compatibility from every involved party — meaning Google would have to work with Apple, Fortnite would have to work with NBA 2K and so on and so forth. It's relying on a lot of speculative collaboration from sworn competitors.
Kroll's project emphasizes accessibility instead. Sure, it's small, and he has ambitions of scaling it into a profitable endeavor, but it's connecting sneakerheads to ultra rare pairs and technologists to a new frontier.
"The AR shoes are completely interactive with your real environment," he says, shrinking the gap between physical and virtual. He encourages everyone who downloads the AR filter to film themselves walking, kicking their feet up in a faraway place or simply standing still. Putting them on is as easy as hovering the camera over your feet. He complies the submitted clips into a weekly recap. Watching Kroll's compilation videos feel like a glimpse into the future, where fit pics could combine digital and physical designs.