Adobe announces partnership with Smithsonian for AR ocean exhibit

Using Adobe Aero, the Smithsonian and Hydrous have created an augmented reality version of an exhibit focused on the diversity of the ocean.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor on

Adobe announced a new partnership with the Smithsonian and Hydrous that will bring an augmented reality exhibit on the world's oceans to life right through a smartphone. 

Hydrous has created a program called "The Decade of Ocean Empathy" that is supported by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and uses the Smithsonian's 3D collection of original samples of scanned corals. Hydrous Chief Scientist Dr. Erika Woolsey, science advisor Celine de Jong and others built a science-based story out of the samples.

Now, the team is using the creative AR toolkit Adobe Aero to bring the exhibit to life using just a QR code. 

"The project showcases a series of interactive, 3-dimensional animations to help viewers factually understand and visualize marine life with photorealistic renders and digital duplications of the real element. It's not just about visualizing a 3D model in AR, but about experiencing a narrative with deep interactivity, which is key to the learning process. This experience enables anyone with a supported mobile device to be immersed in a rare and special environment, learning about a crucial topic in the process," Adobe's Elizabeth Barelli explained.

"This collaboration was initiated to create an interactive, immersive experience that raises awareness about the threats facing ocean ecosystems like coral reefs. It also underscores the complexity and importance of marine habitats to the health of our planet and ourselves -- a beautiful story of how we are all connected."

Anyone can download the Aero app and explore the exhibit themselves. Barelli said the experience is best on iOS 8S and above. There is a list of Android devices that are optimized best for the exhibit. 

The exhibit features 3D scenes that use coral scanned from the Smithsonian collection alongside animated marine life and more. 

Barelli noted that some scenes were created using Substance Painter and others were made through the behavior system in Adobe Aero. 

Marine biologists with Hydrous created dozens of infographics, animations and audio tools that help explain scenes as users interact with them. 

Adobe said museums like the Smithsonian are increasingly adopting AR technology as a way to draw in younger visitors and expand the reach of exhibits. 

"AR is the natural next step in democratizing education and sharing immersive experiences around the globe with the potential to create a positive impact," Barelli said.

"The Smithsonian Aero partnership is rich in many ways -- including the feature development insights gained during production on the project. The richness of this experience helped the Aero product team test and validate many of the new features soon to be released that will help AR creators to seamlessly build complex sequences of actions in a more intuitive way because of new abilities to directly manipulate editing controls and now instantaneous visual feedback while putting a scene together."

The app is also built out to offer drag-and-drop features, parallel action groups, view-all behaviors and more. 

"At Adobe, we are excited to explore how this new medium can connect the physical world with the digital. As a technology that can empower creatives to make beautiful, rich, and meaningful art in a more intuitive way, we have started to observe incredible organic experiences that are transforming the world around us and the minds of those who experience them," Barelli added. 

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