Stamp-smartphone connection a-mazing

In yet another technical innovation, Canada Post has introduced “augmented reality” to some stamps being issued this year. Using augmented reality (AR), users first download the free Stamps Alive app onto their smartphone. Then they scan either the stamp or the packaging, and the result is a new form of interactions. The first such issue is the Franklin the Turtle series. In this case, scanning the packaging reveals a maze. The user navigates Franklin through the maze to mail a letter.

The second augmented reality issue features the two stamps for the Calgary Stampede. Scanning one stamp generates an image of a pet horse. The other stamp generates an image of a virtual barrel race. Canada Post spokeswoman Anick Losier said augmented reality combines computer-generated images with the images from the smartphone. “For the first time, anyone who owns a smartphone or tablet will also be able to enjoy the digital side of stamps,” she said, “with an enhanced view of a physical, real-world environment augmented by computer-generated ‘virtual elements’ such as sound, video, 3D graphics, web-based information or GPS data.” Losier also pointed out that the technology is Canadian-made and while relatively new to stamps has been used in other businesses.

“The interactive content was created by Ad-Dispatch, a 12-year-old Halifax-based company, which has worked with many of North America’s finest marketing agencies and big brands like Chevrolet, Walmart, Marvel, Disney and the Home Depot to create memorable and meaningful consumer experiences using augmented reality technology,” she said. The phrase “augmented reality” dates back to 1990. Until recently, its most common use was in sports for such things as the yellow “first down” line shown in televised football games, the now infamous coloured trail attached to a hockey puck, and to show sponsored images and ads on playing surfaces. Most recently, it was introduced to handheld video games and smartphones, as well as for heads-up displays on some cars and aircraft.

Recently, Lego experimented with a form of AR that allows the user to scan a box’s QR code to get a view of the finished item. QR codes, box-shaped matrix barcodes, are often referred to as magic boxes. The world’s first augmented reality stamps were issued in 2010 by Britain’s Royal Mail. The stamps were issued to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the building of British Railway’s last steam locomotive. When a smartphone is pointed at one of the six stamps, users can watch a short video of actor Bernard Cribbins reciting W.H. Auden’s 1935 poem The Night Mail. At that time users were required to load the junaio augmented reality browser, then subscribe to the Royal Mail channel.

In 2011, the Dutch claimed that they had created the world’s first augmented reality stamp. Their issue, a sheet depicting architecture in the Netherlands, was created for Post NL. Their system required users to log in to a website, then scan the stamp in front of a webcam to generate a three-dimensional rendering of the featured building. Also in 2011, the United States Postal Service issued an augmented reality stamp of its own. The “forever-rate” stamp features an image of Owney the Dog, mascot of the Railway Service Museum. Users who download the Owney app to their phone can scan the stamp and see a multi-dimensional rendering of Owney barking, trotting, and listening to a train whistle.

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