In the magical world of boy wizard Harry Potter, all manner of things are possible—for example, in the Daily Prophet, the newspaper for witches and wizards, the illustrated figures move just as they do in real life.

Naturally, you won’t find this in the real world—yet. But modern media technology is getting ever closer to it. In the Media Technology Center (MTC) at ETH Zurich, for example, students and researchers are working on an “augmented paper”, which would allow anyone with a pair of special glasses—known as augmented reality glasses or AR glasses—to actually see moving pictures on the page, as in Harry Potter. “It is quite possible that these glasses will soon be small enough for us to wear all day,” says Severin Klingler, Managing Director of MTC. “Then we’ll see how digital and real content can be blended together in a ‘augmented paper’.”

Harry Potter starts school—a video for the paper

The “augmented paper” that ETH researchers are currently developing combines the advantages of a traditional newspaper made of paper with the advantages of digital content. “You hold the paper in your hands as normal, but when you read it using the AR glasses the pictures and words change,” explains Klingler.

For example, in a picture below the headline “Start of school for witches and wizards”, you see a steam train emerging. In future, this technology could be used to embed videos of real events in the paper, such as the annual burning of the Böögg at the Sechseläuten festival in Zurich. “What’s new about our technology is how the moving pictures are still displayed correctly even when the pages of the paper bend as they are turned over,” says Klingler.

MTC is pursuing a very practical goal with its project for AR glasses in Zurich city centre. Anyone who looks at Paradeplatz through AR glasses will see local information such as tram departure times, advertising posters for the surrounding shops—or newspaper articles about the two major banks located there. The focus is on questions of practical legibility: Where and when is an advertising poster displayed? Where are the articles displayed? Which surfaces are suitable for the displays?