Augmenting a Roman Fort

The following video shows something that I have been working on as a prototype for a larger landscape AR project.

As you can see, by using the Qualcomm AR SDK and Unity3D it is possible to augment some quite complex virtual objects and information onto the model Roman fort. I really like this application, as all I have done is take a book that you can buy at any heritage site (in the UK at least) and simply changed the baseboard design so that the extra content can be experienced. Obviously there was quite a lot of coding behind the scenes in the app and 3D modelling, but from a user point of view the AR content is very easy to see – simply print out the new baseboard, stick it on and load up the app.

For me that is one of the beautiful things about AR, you still have the real world, you still have the real fort that you have made and can play with it whether or not you have an iPad or Android tablet or what-have-you. All the AR does is augment that experience and allow you to play around with virtual soldiers or peasants or horses instead of using static model ones. It also opens up all sorts of possibilities for adding explanations of building types, a view into the day-to-day activities in a fort, or even for telling stories and acting out historical scenarios.

The relative ease of the deployment of the system (now that I have the code for the app figured out!) means this type of approach could be rolled out in all sorts of different situations. Some of my favourite things in museums, for instance, are the old-school dioramas and scale-models. The skill and craftsmanship of the original model will remain, but it could be augmented by the use of the app – and made to come alive.

Housesteads Diorama

The model of Housesteads fort in the Housesteads museum

The same is true of modern day prototyping models or architectural models. As humans we are used to looking at models of things, and want to be able to touch them and move them around. Manipulating them on a computer screen just doesn’t somehow seem quite right. But the ability to combine the virtual data, with the manipulation and movement of the real-life model gives us a unique and enhanced viewpoint, and can also allow us to visualise new buildings or exisiting buildings in new ways.

A particularly important consideration when creating AR content is to ensure that it looks as believable or ‘real’ as possible. The human eye is very good at noticing things that seem out of the ordinary or “don’t feel quite right”. One of the main ways to help with creating a believable AR experience  is to ensure the real-world occludes the virtual objects. That is the virtual content can be seen to move behind the real-world objects (such as the soldiers walking through the model gateway). Also it should be possible to interact with the real-world objects and have that affect the virtual content (such as touching one of the buildings and making the labels appear). This will become particularly important as I move into rolling the system out into a landscape instead of just a scale-model. As I augment the real world with virtual objects, those objects have to interact with the real-world as if they are part of it – otherwise too many Breaks in Presence will occur and the value of the AR content is diminished. An accurate 3D model of the real-world is quite a bit harder to create than that of a paper fort, but if I can pull it off, the results promise to be quite a bit more impressive…


    • Erick
    • October 21st, 2011 5:36pm


    I have just ordered a Roman Fort kit from Amazon, unfortunately I cant find your app in the appstore, do you have a link for it?


    • Stu Eve
    • October 26th, 2011 12:26pm

    Hi Erick, thanks for the interest! The app is not available from the App Store yet unfortunately. I have a few hoops to jump through first… However you can go ahead and build your fort and then put the template on afterwards. The version in the video is a prototype to experiment with the technology, so watch this space!

  1. This looks amazing, Stu! I’d really like to learn more about how you did this. I watched the video with my son, and he was very excited and wants me to order the fort model today! Looking forward to seeing the app in the AppStore.

  2. Wow that’s really impressive! I agree there are lots of heritage and museum applications for your work. Also seems like a huge potential market from the toy industry. I bet Airfix, Games Workshop etc. would be interested in this kind of interactive enhancement to their models.

    • Stu Eve
    • October 27th, 2011 2:02pm

    Yeah there are already some toy manufacturers using AR – particularly Lego ( which enables you to see what the model should look like. Talking of Airfix it would be great to be able to augment different decals onto the finished model (update the livery of the jet plane or whatever without having to peel the stickers off!).

    • Erick
    • November 2nd, 2011 10:01am

    Hi Stu,

    Thanks, please let me know when the app is on the store. My Roman Fort arrived this week 🙂 !



    • Laas
    • March 12th, 2012 12:07pm

    Great roundup Tom, thank you for ihsrang this comprehensive look at the last year. As far as additions, I may be biased, but I felt that the global AR Dev Camp in December was a significant event for the open AR community. In any case, best wishes forthe new yeAR 2010!

  3. Tripadvisor erweitert seine Apps um Augmented Reality und dfcrfte damit das erste grodfe Reiseportal sein, das diese Technologie ehsntraft nutzt. Die Apps blenden nun Hotels, Restaurants und Sehenswfcrdigkeiten inklusive Bewertungen ins Handy oder Tablet ein, wenn man es in persf6nliche Umgebung he4lt.

  4. thank you for all the things learned from here and congratulations for the good work.

    • mike
    • March 23rd, 2015 10:04pm

    did anything ever come of this? i would love to build the fort with my nephews (or by myself) and then see it come to life

    • stuarteve
    • March 24th, 2015 10:00am

    Not yet – I was attempting to go down the road of developing it with Usborne, but they were not that interested… So I’m looking for other avenues at the moment.

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