The White House wants kids to learn about the government with a tiny interactive version of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue built on a $1 bill. 1600, an iOS and Android app available today, is the White House’s first foray into augmented reality development. If users open it and point the phone’s camera at the bill, the app uses George Washington’s visage as a fiducial marker and constructs the White House on top of it.
Press secretary Josh Earnest narrates its history, while the augmented reality structure cycles through the seasons, including events like the White House Easter Egg Roll. By tapping parts of the building, users can find metaphorical Easter eggs as well, including various US presidents.
Joshua Miller, the White House’s director of product, says 1600 is a way to reach young Americans who are used to apps like Pokémon Go and Snapchat’s augmented reality filters. "We don't want it to feel too much like a homework assignment from your fifth-grade teacher," he says. "We want it to feel fun, like a game." The app itself was developed by the UK-based Nexus Productions, with input from the White House Historical Association. There are no immediate plans to expand it, but Miller says it could be a long-term project, under the aegis of the WHHA. "Our hope is that if they see fit, the Historical Association continues to add to the experience," he says.
Miller compares this project to the Facebook Messenger chatbot that the White House developed to let people write to President Obama, saying both are examples of new technology that happened to meet a genuine outreach need. "We didn't start with ‘Bots are a new technology; they're really cool,’" he says. But the White House has shown interest in augmented and virtual reality in other ways. Obama appeared in an Oculus-produced documentary about Yosemite National Park, and last month, the White House announced a competition for VR and AR learning tools, which is accepting submissions until January 17th.
In the long term, augmented reality is seen as a potential new tool for citizens to study and work remotely. Congress held its first hearing on the technology in November, addressing both benefits and dangers. The hearing focused largely on Microsoft HoloLens-style heads-up displays, which project images directly in front of users’ eyes. But the popularity of Pokémon Go this summer has also turned phone-based augmented reality, a technology that’s been around for years, into something newly fascinating. We can reasonably predict that 1600 isn’t going to be quite as addictive as Pokémon Go, but based on the video above, it’s still sort of adorable.