ESI Design Uses Unreal Engine To Create An AR-Inspired Lobby Experience

A two year renovation has transformed The Crossroads lobby into an interactive digital experience powered by Unreal Engine.

A Silicon Valley office building located in San Mateo, CA, called The Crossroads, recently completed a major structural overhaul that transformed its standard lobby from a drab entrance with muted colors and old dusty photos, into a state-of-the-art welcome area that uses the power of Unreal Engine, along with 86” high-definition 4K vertical LCD displays, to create an interactive digital experience that reacts to your movements.

Each screen depicts imagery of iconic California landmarks, such as the Redwood Forest, Yosemite National Park, and, of course, California’s coastal scenery, but with a vintage California travel poster-feel to them.

For example, as you walk past the massive digital displays, you’ll see a herd of deer look right back at you with curiosity. Move too quickly, and they scatter into the woods. You’ll also see the grass and flowers swaying back and forth as you walk past. If you’re lucky, you may even discover the many Easter Eggs the designers have hidden throughout the experience.

Originally commissioned by Beacon Capital Partners, the digital gateways were designed by a team of creatives over at ESI Design, who have worked for companies such as eBay, AT&T, Comcast, Sony, and Samsung, designing one-of-a-kind spaces that intertwine the physical and digital worlds into a single immersive environment.

In an interview with VRScout, Emily Webster, Head of Media Architecture for ESI Design, talked about The Crossroads project and answered the question of ‘is The Crossroads project AR?’, saying, “I don’t see this as AR since the digital content is more a permanent installation built into the real-world environment.” Webster adds, “We’re always weaving technology into architecture which is allowing it to have this ability to change, flex and morph – and hopefully expand upon your experiences on how you move through a space. So, in that sense, I think it has sort of tangents or connections to what AR is aiming to do. What we’re trying to do is connect you more to your space and make it a grander experience.”

For Webster and her team, one thing they noticed was the fact that the lobby didn’t have a reception area – which meant no one to greet you when you entered the building.  The team envisioned a space where visitors are welcomed by digital content, but in an organic matter that reflected the buildings existing surroundings while embracing new technology.

“One of our first impressions from visiting the existing site was that it was connected to the landscape around it,” continued Webster. “They let the door stay open and let the breeze flow through, so we wanted to pull in that natural environment into the building lobby and have something that responded to weather changes outside and have a piece of that come to life inside the building.”

This meant that if it was raining outside in the real world, it would be raining in the digital world. Because the displays are on a 24-hour cycle, early bird employees are greeted with golden rays of sunshine peaking between the leaves of the trees, while employees who burn the midnight oil will experience moonlight reflecting off of the landscape as they exit the building.

For the woodland creatures that roam inside of the digital windows, the design team turned to Unreal Engine’s AI-driven animations to bring the animals to life and have them respond naturally to your presence. The critters will remain skittish at first, but if you stay in the lobby long enough, their curiosity will eventually get the best of them as they walk up to you for a closer inspection.

The experience is possible through a series of thermal-tracking cameras made by FLIR, which can detect temperature to see if a warm-blooded person is in the space (sorry lizard people). Once the camera detects your presence, the software then launches the interactive media in the installation.

Fun fact: The sun that streams into the lobbies actually created an interesting problem of “ghosts” (heat spots that aren’t people) – that the team had to then design around.

In the end, ESI Design’s Crossroads project might not be a true AR experience, but it definitely takes us down a path of creative AR-influenced experience that might define a new mixed reality experience.

If you’re in the San Mateo area and you’d like to check out The Crossroads state-of-the-art lobby, you can visit the campus at 1875 S. Grant Street, just a 10-minute walk from the Hayward Park Caltrain Station.

Image Credit: ESI Design / The Crossroads

About the Scout

Bobby Carlton

Hello, my name is Bobby Carlton. When I'm not exploring the world of immersive technology, I'm writing rock songs about lost love. I'd also like to mention that I can do 25 push-ups in a row.

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