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University of Michigan School of Information


Mozilla grant helps fund reimagining augmented reality browsers

Friday, 02/08/2019

Augmented reality is a technology that combines real world scenes with virtual objects and experiences. Anyone who’s ever seen the virtual down line displayed on the field on any pro football game broadcast, caught a monster playing Pokémon Go, or arranged 3D images of furniture in the living room has  already experienced some of what this technology can do.   

Michael Nebeling, assistant professor of information at UMSI, has bigger plans. His project, “Rethinking the Web Browser as an Augmented Reality Application Delivery Platform,” received a 2018 Mozilla Research Grant.

When designing this project, Nebeling says he wanted to reimagine how augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) content operates in browsers. 

“Together with Mozilla, we want to find out what would happen if we were willing to step back and make changes to the web,” says Nebeling. “How could we do more? What if 3D bits popped out of 2D pages? How do we merge the 3D bits from many pages? How do we support this in a browser without significant trade-offs in user agency and privacy? What are new compelling multi-app AR experiences that we can enable that way?”

The research gift from Mozilla will enable Nebeling and his lab to conduct two important research studies around the future of the web and its use as a platform for augmented reality applications. 

The first study will explore a range of desirable augmented reality applications and how they could be created by composing popular, existing applications in interesting and useful, new ways. 

The second study will focus on new interaction techniques and technical solutions for sharing links to and content of web applications based on novel augmented reality interfaces. 

Together, these studies will inform the design of future web browsing interfaces and technologies with user-driven support for AR/VR.

"I am very happy that Mozilla is supporting the research in my lab,” said Nebeling. “The support allows me to bring on several new Master of Science in Information students, many of whom I have been teaching in my new AR/VR course, and who are now excited to get to work on this project to practice the techniques they studied and deepen their research skills."

The Mozilla announcement of this round of research grants describes the program as a reflection of the company’s “commitment to open innovation, continuously exploring new possibilities with and for diverse communities.”

Nabeling believes the company has invested in his research because “they believe in the work we do and in the impact it can have on the web for AR/VR.” 

“While many vendors try to shape the future of AR/VR in terms of their specific platforms and technologies, the web needs to remain the open access and device-agnostic platform that it is. This is very important to Mozilla, and to us, and requires new research like ours."

- Jessica Webster, UMSI PR Specialist