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AR Chinatown

USC Mobile & Environmental Media Lab
Type
AR Protoyping
My Role
AR Developer
Project Manager
Timeline
Aug 2021 - May 2022
Skills
Unity, AR Foundation, Niantic Lightship, Figma, Maya, etc
Overview
The goal of this project is to embed historic photographic images of LA's first Chinatown into the location where they were originally taken and that is now occupied by LA Metro's Union Station. The experience will include supporting materials located in Union Station and nearby museums and will be designed for public access by a wide spectrum of users including daily commuters, residents, K-12 school visits, and tourists. ​

Using state-of-the-art mobile augmented reality platforms, historic images from the Huntington Library Collections will be viewed on a visitor's mobile device screen and appear superimposed onto the actual site of the original buildings.  As users move around the station and surrounding area, they will retrace the steps of the original photographers allowing many other images to be discovered and giving a vivid sense of the community that came before.

​In partnership with USC School of Cinematic Arts, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, LA Metro, The Huntington, and The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW)
My Contribution (Summary)
In Fall 2021, I joined the team as a sponsored student and worked with graduate students from the class IML 575: Media Arts Research Lab. During this period, I focused on researching emerging AR technology & tools and creating rapid prototypes to support concept development and iteration.

In Spring 2022, I was promoted to be a Project Lead of the lab to oversee project milestone and tasks. I managed a team of 6+ undergraduate and graduate students while continuing to take a lead on the app development.

At the end, the project was submitted and received NEH Prototyping grants in 2022.
Team
Jenny Choi – Developer, Project Manager
Chris Ting – Developer
Rylan Daniels – Developer
Tony Liao – 3D Modeler
Kevin Yin – Narrative, UI
Tyler White – Narrative, UI
Patrick Waechter – Narrative, Research
Timeline
Research & Ideation - Fall 2021
We focused on exploring the AR concepts and available technology as well as brainstorming potential concepts for the app. During the brainstorming stage, I focused on tool research and creating proof-of-concept prototypes each week to quickly test out the viability of those ideas. We held multiple presentations to the LA metro and USC Dornsife research group to validate the idea and get feedback. ​
Design & Prototype - Spring 2022
I was assigned to be a project manager by Professor Scott Fisher. While overseeing team tasks and organizing resources on Notion and Slack, I also continued to actively participate in the prototyping process. We took the first few weeks as the final stage of ideation and concept development, deciding on development tools and platforms, and spent the rest of the semester creating the prototype.
Research & Ideation - Fall 2021
Brainstorming
Asking key questions within the team, and exploring experience options and potential outcomes. Multiple rounds of presentation and revising concepts based on the feedback from LA Metro and USC Dornsife research group.
Tech Exploration
Understanding available technology and its capability to build viable ideas. Breaking down the pros & cons of each platform to decide on the best platform for the app.
  • Example tools - Niantic Lightship, Unity AR Foundation, Snap Lens Studio, Reality Composer, WebXR - AFrame
Rapid prototyping
Creating visual mockups and interactive prototypes to simulate the interaction and validate ideas proposed during the brainstorming session.
Feature Ideation & prototype
Portal with Photo 3D Effect
Snap Lens Studio
Location Anchor & 2D Map View
Unity ARFoundation, AR+GPS plugin, Google Map API
Design & Interaction Mockup
Figma

Design & Prototype - Spring 2022
User Experience Design
Finalizing concept development and user journey. Supporting documents like storyboards, UI mockups, videos, written narration, etc.
Development
Unity project source controlled using Github. Used Niantic Lightship for A. App tested frequently on-site and remotely on USC campus.
    Project Management
    Sprint-based task management for designers, 3D modelers, and developers using Notion.
    User Experience Finalization
    The first few weeks were the final stage of the concept design for the prototype. We have concluded to use the combination of AR portals + texture-mapped 3D building to demonstrate old Chinatown. Before moving onto the production, we had to nail down details of user journey, interaction types, and physical location and scaling of the experience using methods described below:
    User Journey Breakdown
    Creating visual mockups and interactive prototypes to simulate the interaction and validate ideas proposed during the brainstorming session.
    Location Map
    Comparing Google map 3D data and old Chinatown image archives to determine physical location for AR experience and building placement of old Chinatown
    VR Prototype
    To virtually simulate experience and get a sense of scaling, view angle, and flow.
    Prototype Development
    The first few weeks were the final stage of the concept design for the prototype. We have concluded to use the combination of AR portals + texture-mapped 3D building to demonstrate old Chinatown. Before moving onto the production, we had to nail down details of user journey, interaction types, and physical location and scaling of the experience using methods described below:
    Proximity & Picture Taking Trigger
    To activate portal and store metadata

    Enterable Big Portal
    Portal using URP Render Feature & collision trigger
    Final Prototype
    Project Management
    Used Notion for task board and organization of resources, assets, and meeting notes. 8-week sprint-based task assignment for prototype development. Held all-hands and check-in meetings every week.
    Conclusion
    Outcome
    Submitted and received NEH Prototyping Grant in 2022
    Featured in Keynote at Niantic's Developer summit 2022.
    Letter of support from Mayor Garcetti.
    Personal Takeaways
    Unity experience and familiarity with various AR development tool.
    Collaboration with undergraduate and graduate students of different background.
    Task management and communication.
    Next Steps
    Performance optimization, GO-Map support and onboarding tutorial.
    Funding, recruitment and production.