News: New York Times AR Coverage of Guatemala Volcano Disaster Shows AR Isn't Ready for Breaking News

New York Times AR Coverage of Guatemala Volcano Disaster Shows AR Isn't Ready for Breaking News

The latest augmented reality feature from The New York Times gives readers a close-up view of the damage left behind by the eruption of Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala earlier this month.

Through the NY Times app for iOS and Android, readers can walk around a truck in the village of San Miguel Los Lotes buried up to its windows in ash. The 3D scene can be toggled between tabletop model and life-sized scale.

Image via New York Times

"My colleagues and I recognized an opportunity to convey the scale of this natural disaster in a new way, to bring our readers closer to the story by placing them at the scene and allowing them to examine it as if they were there," said Times reporter Niko Koppel in a Times Insider report.

The experience was captured through 727 photos captured in the span of 29 minutes by photographer and Guatemala resident Daniele Volpe on June 8, five days after the eruption.

"We taught Mr. Volpe on the spot how to shoot for photogrammetry, capturing the scene from every angle and later applying software that would assemble his hundreds of images into an accurate 3D model," said Koppel.

Images by Tommy Palladino/Next Reality

The story and its AR experience were published on June 19, or 16 days after the eruption. While the experience gives readers a perspective on the damage left behind by the volcano, which killed more than 150 people with nearly 200 still missing, the coverage underscores the fact that augmented reality is still not a tool that's well suited for reporting breaking news. In a world where news breaks in seconds via tweets, not hours on TV, or days in newspapers, two weeks is just not fast enough.

Until Moore's law completes enough cycles that we reach the point at which photogrammetry becomes as common as a Snapchat Lens selfie, augmented reality will be relegated to feature stories running on the traditional monthly magazine schedule. With just five AR stories published in six months by the Times, that is clearly the case.

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Cover image via The New York Times


I rather like how you are able to bring a feeling of the story to the consumer through AR. I wonder if a better option for this kind of thing would be the utilization of drone technology to capture the images quicker and over a much wider area? Transferring to an AR experience would be pretty straightforward too.

That's an interesting possibility. Still, the process of cleaning up the 3D model based of off the photos/scans appears to be the more time-intensive portion of the process.

Drone would definitely be way faster and if done right (ex: sequential images shot in a circle at each of a handful of heights) it would provide better more consistent images for the photogrammetry software to do its thing. Depending on the scene / lighting, cleanup can still be pretty time consuming.

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