Miraffe Proves That Augmented Reality Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated or Creepy

Janko Roettgers / Variety

We’ve all seen videos of Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset. And we all remember Google Glass. Now, a Chinese startup is trying to prove that augmented reality, which combines computer-generated images with the real world, doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive and creepy.

Shenzen-based Xiaoxi Technology’s take on augmented reality is Miraffe, a “magic mirror” for kids with a phone-sized screen and a front-facing camera to recognize objects and combine animated characters with the real world. The device is shaped like a giraffe-themed mirror —  think spotted handle and ears on top of the bezel — and it squarely targets kids with educational apps and the ability to video chat with parents.

Xiaoxi Technology demoed Miraffe at CES Asia in Shanghai this week, showing how the device could recognize everyday objects like a calculator and a phone, and spell the word for each object in English as well as Chinese. In a test with Variety, Miraffe had some trouble recognizing a pair of glasses, and a spokesperson said that the device currently has a 60 to 70 percent accuracy rate for object recognition.

However, recognizing and naming objects is just one of Miraffe’s abilities. The device also ships with a number of paper cards that depict various animals. Miraffe is capable of recognizing these animals, and then displays an animated 3D version, which is combined with whatever is in the viewfinder of the device’s camera. That way, tigers, fishes and other animals come to life in one’s living room.

Xiaoxi Technology just started a Kickstarter for Miraffe, selling a limited number of devices for as little as $99. Later this year, the company wants to sell the device for a suggested retail price of $300.

Granted, Miraffe’s approach towards augmented reality isn’t entirely novel. A number of mobile apps have offered animations on top of real-world images for some time, and some have even explored object recognition.

However, Miraffe’s positioning as a dedicated augmented reality device for kids opens up a middle ground between general purpose mobile phones and expensive headsets or glasses. Its focus on the young ones could even offer media companies interesting promotional opportunities, like ads that enable kids to “capture” movie characters, and make them come alive with their augmented reality device.

If anything, Miraffe goes to show that you don’t necessarily need expensive hardware to make augmented reality work. Sometimes, a toy will do just fine.