University of South Florida


[ Video by Torie Doll, UCM, with contributions by the City of Clearwater.]

USF-developed app creates augmented reality experience for downtown Clearwater murals

By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

The University of South Florida’s Access 3D Lab and Advanced Visualization Center are helping bring four murals to life in downtown Clearwater through a new partnership with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. A first of its kind for the Tampa Bay region, the ARTours Clearwater mobile application takes users on an interactive tour throughout the city using virtual and augmented realities. Through the app, users can take selfies in the augmented reality space and experience art in a fresh, new way.

The four murals are part of the Downtown Clearwater Mural Program, which aims to enliven public spaces and highlight downtown’s emerging arts scene.

“ARTours Clearwater invites everyone to journey through downtown Clearwater’s murals through the fun and unique lens of augmented reality that merges the worlds of art and technology together,” said Jaye Matthews, director of the Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency. “Building this partnership with USF and developing the ARTours app creates an unexpected way to see and interact with the core of our downtown community.”

A collage of 4 images. Top left is the mural Comunidad by Florencia Duran and Camilo Nunez, depicting women hitting hands. Top right is 100 years before J. Cole by Michelle Sawyer and Tony Krol, depicting a train and person riding a bicycle. Bottom left is After A While by MJ Lindo and Joshua Lawyer, depicting a woman walking an aligator with a crown. Bottom right is Ikebana by DAAS, depicting flowers.

Check out where the murals live, as well as other public art sites, in this virtual map. [Photo Courtesy: City of Clearwater]

To bring the murals to life, Laura Harrison, director of Access 3D, and her team ventured downtown and spent four days using three 3D terrestrial lidar scanners to generate accurate measurements of the murals. Capturing any object in front of and above its tripod, each scanner can collect 976,000 measurements per second.

“Digital placemaking technologies, such as augmented reality, require people to come to a physical space and make a memory in real time, and so it’s an innovative way to combine art, technology and culture,” Harrison said.

Back in the computer lab, the collected data is processed and a full-scale, 360-degree digital model of each mural is created. Kylie Dillinger, graduate student and research support specialist for Access 3D, aligned the measurements and deleted any extraneous data like the 3D scanners, target spheres and people. “It was like putting together a 3D puzzle,” Dillinger said.

The project baton was then passed to Howard Kaplan, associate director of the Advanced Visualization Center, and his team to develop the ARTours Clearwater application. Using Access 3D’s models, the team created triggers and trackers on specific points of the murals. In collaboration with the city of Clearwater, the team envisioned the walking path and storytelling behind each mural to incorporate video and audio elements and create interactive 2D and 3D animations that would display at the designated points. 

“This collaboration has been a win-win for everybody,” Kaplan said. “Our students were provided the opportunity to get involved in a hands-on project, while showing off downtown Clearwater and the skills and technology at USF.”

Krish Veera and Vladislav Krukhmalev, student developers for the Advanced Visualization Center, said they’re looking forward to bringing their friends on a tour of the murals, using the app and pointing out their names in the credits. 

“As a student, you want real-world experiences where you can learn outside the classroom, and this project was a great opportunity for me to explore software that was new to me,” Veera said. 

“Working on augmented and virtual reality simulations while networking with professionals in the industry has helped me gain a sense of direction for my career path in video game development,” Krukhmalev said.

ARTours Clearwater was initially launched in 2020, but only featured Comunidad, a 100-foot mural celebrating women and cultural diversity. Following completion of the full mural tour, the app was relaunched today and made available to the public. “We’re hoping that this project can serve as an example for future digital heritage and humanities projects throughout Tampa Bay and beyond,” Harrison said. “The way that it weaves together narrative storytelling with engaging technology and public audiences, we really think this is the future of digital heritage and augmented reality.”

To learn more about the Downtown Clearwater Mural Program and download the free ARTours app, click here.

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