What is Augmented Reality?

For May my posts are on specific technologies. NZ’s TechWeekNZ event is on later in the month, so I am also aiming to mention some Kiwi firms leading the way in the featured technology. 

What is augmented reality (AR)? You may have heard of PokemonGO, which might be the best known AR craze. But did you know exactly what it was about? Well with AR you see the real world through your device, but with a bit of computer generated content on top of it. It is a hybrid viewpoint, as distinct from virtual reality where what you see is 100% in the virtual world.

At work when you see visual simulations of proposed buildings superimposed on photographs of the existing environment you are looking at a static version of this concept. AR is the same thing but in real time so that when you move to change your viewing position, the computer generated part changes too.

AR is live in parks all around New Zealand…and the world

A NZ company Geo AR Games has designed an AR app which allows children to interact with computerised creatures in a real park. The Magical Park app is deployed in parks across Auckland – See article here. Geo AR Games lists parks all around NZ who use the app including Auckland, Hastings, Napier, Wellington and Dunedin. See the map here.

How does it work? The parent/child downloads the app on their device, the Council pays the subscription to have the app available for the park. The child plays in a designated zone of the park, so they don’t stray outside this safe area on to car parking areas or watercourses.  What do they see? See video of it in action here and here.

AR can help us explore options and visualise outcomes

Here is a quick video about how augmented reality can help planners visualise the placement of buildings. Whilst visualising buildings is an established skill for experienced planners, it is true that our younger professionals are more reliant on technology for this.

It would also be really effective in community consultation exercises, as reading plans and visualising the resulting building is not a common skill for the general public.

AR helps people understand environmental processes

The augmented reality app WWF Free Rivers was featured on TV3’s The AM show yesterday.  This app is one of several which resulted from a recent campaign initiated by Apple with World Wildlife Fund. The campaign’s purpose was to get some app developers together to create apps which benefit WWF or the planet. An article on WWF’s website explains the campaign called Apps for Earth.

As this was an Apple initiative, the apps are only available from Apple’s App Store. So, unfortunately I can’t try the app myself as I use Android.

WWF has also been helped by Google to develop tech-savy education resources . As these technologies are rolled out to the public and to students in school, it brings change to what our communities expect of us.

This is where it gets interesting for our practice. Through this sort of technology deployed in education, our future communities become used to seeing, with their own eyes, environmental processes in action. This leads to changing expectations in the types of information they want from us to understand environmental issues. Text-based AEE’s just do not communicate as effectively as this sort of technology. Plus the user can play around with scenarios and see for themselves what impacts the construction of say a dam can bring. This technology has the potential to upskill communities and lead to more informed stakeholder input on environmental decision-making.

To see more on the variety of AR available, check out this augmented reality guide.

Header Image Source: From Apple WWF Free Rivers app as shown in article and available from the App Store.


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