Augmented reality Lego is actually pretty cool

Augmented reality toys have become a small but steady part of the gaming market, but augmented reality as a concept has always been hit or miss. If the companion app isn’t a tacked-on bell and whistle, the toy itself often isn’t much fun to play with. But Lego, which has a long history of blending tech into its traditional building sets, may have struck a decent balance with a new project called Fusion.



Fusion’s premise isn’t too different to that of similar toys: put an object on top of, or next to, or under a tablet, and a version of it will appear in a corresponding app. It begins with four fairly normal-looking sets, each based on a different Lego theme: race cars, a town, a medieval castle, and a resort (part of the girl-focused and frequently maligned Friends lineup.) But among the pieces is a small plastic base, each set’s version emblazoned with a different pattern. Build on top of them, and your tablet’s camera will be able to recognize and scan the resulting design, as long as it’s not too big and adheres to some other rules. Whatever you make will end up being part of a mobile game.



In the Town Master set, for example, you build a house’s facade on what looks like a piece of sidewalk. Start the app, point the camera at your creation, and you’ll be asked to line up its base with a small box on the screen. Once you get it right, the app scans the bricks and matches them by color and shape, reconstructing a virtual counterpart.


The app stretches it into a 3D model, and you can place it in a town-building game that’s reminiscent of a highly simplified SimCity. In the beta version I tried, scanning success depended on good lighting and a few retakes, when the design came out with random black horns or missing bricks. It wasn’t difficult, though, and it didn’t require any special features like NFC. Once a building is scanned, you can check citizens’ needs and assign it the role of a hospital, restaurant, "Segway store," or any number of other businesses and utilities.