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Want to see that ad in 3D?

French company Total Immersion is hawking software that couples 3D models with kiosk ads. They call it "augmented reality."

Here comes a new way for advertisers to capture attention: software that turns 2D images into 3D simulations when consumers play with them in front of a Webcam.

Total Immersion's D'Fusion system is composed of a kiosk, Web cameras, and software capable of recognizing, tracking, and rendering images.

It works like this. Customers view themselves on a screen through a Webcam and hold up a 2D picture. Suddenly the 2D picture pops up and consumers see themselves holding a 3D simulation of the product in the brochure on the kiosk's video feed. Sometimes it doesn't work: the 3D image will disappear if you hold the picture at a wrong angle. Still, it's an eye-grabber for a kiosk application.

Video tease
Video: CNET's Hanna Sistek demonstrates Total Immersion's software. Click the image above to view.

"It's like watching a magic show; there's this jaw-dropping moment when people can't really believe what they're seeing," said Jeremiah Knight, director of digital strategy at marketing agency Tequila.

Earlier this year, Tequila used Total Immersion's technology when marketing a car at auto shows around the country. "The customers' level of engagement was exceptionally high," Knight said. "We could engage them into conversations substantially deeper than with any other advertising method."

Total Immersion kicked off seven years ago in Europe and set up shop in Los Angeles late last year. Its idea largely plays off the existing CAD/CAM and 3D models companies already have prepared in their design shops. Total Immersion takes pictures of the brochure or box and then extrapolates the 2D image into a 3D simulation. It sells kits of "magic boxes" to companies that want to amaze their customers with a new marketing tool.

The magic boxes, however, cost quite a bit and are out of range for most retailers to buy. It costs approximately $50,000 to equip a typical toy store with them, and the return on investment is hard to measure. Thus, the customers for now are the manufacturers.

Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion, envisions many other uses for D'Fusion, assuming the price can come way down.

CEO Bruno Uzzan
CEO Bruno Uzzan envisions many uses for D'Fusion. Hanna Sistek/CNET

"We're targeting the end-consumer market," he said during a meeting at the Ad Tech conference in San Francisco last week, referring to any owner of a PC with a Webcam. "It could for instance be used in publishing. You could see a 3D character speaking to you while you're reading a Disney book," he said.

Another application could be games. "You could have chess characters go live while you're playing," Uzzan suggested.

The D'Fusion real-time visual software also does finger tracking. Point at a product in a brochure, and it starts animating that product.

The company says it also has customers in the theme park and entertainment business, as well as mobile-phone operators. Total Immersion is funded by the venture capital firms Partech International and I Source Gestion, and most recently also by Elaia Partners.

The software can be downloaded for free, together with a test printout. It isn't working very well, but if you have a Webcam it's worth checking out.