New augmented reality app Mark AR gives graffiti artists a virtual wall to paint on

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Mark AR is the virtual graffiti app giving artists a safe place to express themselves.
Image: Mark AR

Once seen as criminal, graffiti has gained wider acceptance over the years. Graffiti artists score commissions from small businesses as well as huge corporations for their work. Meanwhile, free speech walls have given artists a canvas to express their voices as well.

Now, a new augmented reality (AR) app called Mark AR allows artists to digitally create pieces almost anywhere, The Verge reports, without getting chased by the cops or thrown in jail. However, its developers are finding out that the social issues surrounding virtual graffiti can be just as complicated as the real thing.

‘The World’s First Augmented Reality Social Platform’

Mark AR is billed as “The world’s first augmented reality social platform.” It’s also one of the first apps built on Google’s Persistent Cloud Anchors. “Subway Surfers” developer Sybo teamed up with mobile publisher iDreamSky to create Mark AR. The companies debuted the app at the recent New York Comic-Con.

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Conference-goers could cruise through the comic-con pop-up with a borrowed phone and view AR art installations. Professional artists created some of the pieces. However, attendees could also make their own art either using the app’s virtual spray cans to paint freehand or with comic-themed stencils.

In the future, Mark AR will allow people to create their own stencils and upload art from graphics editors like Photoshop. The app utilizes Google’s ARCore platform to store the location using GPS and computer vision to capture landmarks in the environment to use as anchors.

The social media component is added when users share their art with friends and followers. Those people will receive a thumbnail on the map. They can then go to the location, point their phone, and voila! Virtual graffiti.

Social Issues

Some technical issues will undoubtedly pop up as the app’s popularity grows, especially with the fledgling Cloud Anchor technology. As the world has seen with AR apps like “Pokémon Go,” social issues dictate how the public receives this type of technology.

When “Pokémon Go” launched in 2016, problems immediately began popping up. For instance, folks ran out on freeways in pursuit of pokémon and started capturing them in inappropriate places like the Holocaust Museum.

Creative apps like Mark AR, where anyone can upload content, have to contend with those looking to do harm⁠—like hate groups, bullies, and trolls. Again, humanity has seen the havoc that these wrongdoers can wreak through poorly regulated social media platforms.

Lessons Learned

To try and avoid some of these issues, Mark AR’s developers took to heart lessons learned from “Pokémon Go” and Facebook. For one, the app will geofence sensitive places like memorials as off-limits. Furthermore, the creators hope that a friend-based model and real-name policy will deter anyone thinking of using the app for the wrong reasons.

“Because there’s no anonymity, that helps govern what people are doing,” Sybo CEO Mathias Gredal Norvig said. As seen daily on Facebook, those looking to do harm will find a way. That’s why Mark AR’s developers are taking it slow. Plans for more exhibits like the one at comic-con will follow. If all goes well, Mark AR will then see a single-city launch before rolling out nationwide.

“A city launch will be where we’re testing,” iDreamSky president Jeff Lyndon said. “Can we handle the moderation? Can we make sure people are playing safe? Once we can handle a city, we know exactly how we can scale our business to a national launch.”

The city (any city) is certainly an appropriate place to launch an app with graffiti art at its core.