USA Today launched a new Women’s World Cup augmented reality (AR) experience as part of its mobile apps Tuesday that gives users a chance to step into the shoes of Team USA goalie Alyssa Naeher. With the help of AR, users can practice blocking penalty kicks from a life-size goal, including some that approach with 80 miles per hour — speeds that Naeher will be facing once the World Cup officially starts later this week.
Gannett and USA Today emerging technology director Ray Soto readily admitted that he hadn’t been able to block any of those super-fast balls either when he demonstrated the experience at the sidelines of the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. last week. “You really don’t know where this is going to go, but I don’t think Alyssa does either,” he said.
Soto said that his team initially just planned to include those 80 mph shots in the experience, but quickly realized that this would be too overwhelming for most users. That’s why the experience now also includes a much more manageable training phase, as well as an intermediate stage with balls coming in at 40 mph.
The entire experience is modeled after real penalty kicks, tasking users to block 5 shots. It is being narrated in part by Naeher herself, who Soto’s team recently got to scan and turn into a 3D AR hologram. “Team USA and Alyssa were fantastic,” he said.
In addition to the goalkeeper experience, USA Today is also launching a second AR component, which introduces Team USA on the field in a tabletop-like setting. Soto said that the app would be constantly updated to reflect any changes in Team USA’s line-up. The two-part AR experience went live within USA Today’s iOS and Android apps Tuesday.