USA Today Network, a group of more than 100 Gannett-owned publications including USA Today, is set to roll out its first augmented reality app, focused on the 30 rocket launches slated for Cape Canaveral, Florida, this year.
The app, dubbed 321Launch, will use AR tech to show launches from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rockets. Users in New York, for example, will see a rocket against their own sky on their phones’ screens, complemented by information such as predicted flight patterns. The app can also present live video of launches in a more traditional way.
There are no ads yet in the app, which comes out March 29, but the company intends to offer sponsorships in the future.
The network is tapping its in-house resources for its new effort. It developed the app using employees who previously made video games at outfits such as Electronic Arts.
Ray Sotto, director of emerging technology at USA Today Network and one of those previous EA employees, estimates the app would have cost the publisher at least $1 million if its development was outsourced to a third party.
“This is our first AR experience,” Sotto says. “One of our main goals is to get a more younger, more engaged audience and we want to make sure we get the user experience right.”
During a demo at SXSW, the app’s fluid design clearly showcased the creators’ video game expertise. USA Today Network says it’s using its reporters from publication Florida Today to provide context about the rockets. “Rockets use a lot of water when they launch, but it isn’t for cooling things down,” Sotto says by way of example. “It’s actually to dampen the noise because they get that loud.”
The app highlights nuggets of information like that when people use it. In the future, Sotto says the publication will explore other uses for the underlying AR technology, like layering info onto sports experiences.