Skiing high tech: the new trails of augmented reality


Institutional Communication Service

1 February 2016

Prof. Marc Langheinrich and Anton Fedosov, Faculty of informatics

Thanks to the miniaturisation of information and communication technologies (ICT) it is now possible to acquire and share a larger number of information in increasingly different contexts, even on ski slopes.  

Winter sports enthusiasts take a large number of videos and pictures thanks to smartphones and sturdy cameras such as GoPro, while fitness applications and bracelets that register exercise can trace detailed data on performances on the slopes, distance travelled during the day, difference in height, and trails. The collected data can be used to liven up evening conversations, or initiate friendly competitions on the slopes, but they can also serve as precious advice in making many of the decisions that a group of skiers or snowboarders face during the day: which will be the next trail? Which areas should one steer clear from off-piste? Where to meet for lunch or après-ski?

Folding maps and posters on the side of the trails traditionally helped athletes in planning the day, offering an overview of the slopes. Unfortunately, on said maps, it is impossible to share what will influence one’s decision such as personal information, pictures, GPS directions, personalised point of interest or real time dangers.

In the framework of the project “SHARING21”, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, we are investigating on how digital and non-digital content is shared nowadays, and how it will happen in the future.

For a better understanding of the potential that lies behind this context while practicing outdoors activities, we designed an augmented reality system called SkiAR. It makes it easy for skiers and snowboarders to share personal content with others. The idea behind augmented reality is to superimpose digital information on what our eyes see. A concept already in use in the popular head-up displays on luxury cars, which project the dashboard information on the windshield.

AR systems use sophisticated head and eye tracking technologies, allowing the images that are being projected to merge with what we see. With SkiAR, the user will see the trails, the pictures, the points of interest and dangers that other skiers want to share as if they were drawn directly on the paper maps or posters in front of them. We implemented and tested a first prototype of SkiAR using a regular smartphone (worn on the head as a helmet) and a smartwatch to control the system.

The prototype has so far been tested only in laboratory and it was presented to the public at CeBIT in Hannover 2016.