On Monday, the world watched in horror as the historic Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames in Paris.
Just days later, on Wednesday, the augmented reality team at USA Today managed to add a related interactive 3D experience to its app (iOS and Android), displaying the famous structure as it appeared before the conflagration.
The news outlet published the interactive experience to its iOS and Android apps alongside its traditional news account of the fire and the city's reconstruction plans. As of this writing, the story is located under the Top Stories section on the app, highlighted with blue "Interactive Story" text above the story.
The story presents an incredibly detailed 3D model of the structure, with hotspots surrounding it, allowing users to tap on the hotspots to access additional information, including pictures of the church's famous spire ablaze. In addition, users can adjust the scale of the virtual building to their liking.
Last year, both The New York Times and USA Today debuted augmented reality as a journalism practice, with the Times working at a brisk pace of more than one story per month while also breaking new ground with technology like volumetric video.
This year, USA Today has assumed the frequency at which the Times produced AR stories in 2018. So far, USA Today has covered topics ranging from NHL and the Oscars to the world's tallest buildings and its latest piece on Notre Dame.
While I mused last year that AR wasn't ready for breaking news, this story demonstrates that media outlets can now produce AR stories with relative speed. Granted, the AR content did not appear as quickly as the user-generated videos that popped up in real time on Twitter, but this was fast nonetheless.
"From a technology standpoint, AR can, in fact, be turned around at breaking news speed, as long as the execution is relatively simple — an object without too much interaction for example. Most of what takes a lot of time at this point is this innovation side," said Graham Roberts, director of immersive platforms for The New York Times, in an email to Next Reality last year. "The timeline is very specific to each project, and is trending shorter as we create efficiencies and learn more what works."
At this rate, it won't be too long before AR is ready to present breaking news in real time. For now, a couple of days turnaround will do.