16 May 2009

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is the fusion of real and virtual reality, usually projecting computer graphics over live video footage in real time. The excellent Osocio blog recently posted two advocacy projects that use augmented reality for outreach.

The first is a cellphone game that shows an animated, virtual bear colliding, falling and otherwise bumbling around the physical environment as viewed through the phone’s camera. The application is part of a campaign on biodiversity by the World Wildlife Foundation in China. The message: forests are fast disappearing, see how wildlife struggles to cope outside its habitat, the fate of wildlife is in your hand.

The other campaign creates a virtual minefield at a shopping mall in Norway to dramatize the importance of mine clearance. Pedestrians pass by a mannequin in UN de-mining gear warning that they are entering a mined area. A computer linked up to an infrared camera detects pedestrian traffic and when a special spot is crossed, speakers hit the pedestrian with the sound of an explosion. Text is then projected onto the floor in front of the pedestrian describing the impact of landmines and soliciting a donation via SMS.

However, the spots on the floor are not entirely random. Via a web site, users are put in the role of the de-mining team. Web users can see the spots of the “mines” projected onto a video of the mall. Users must click the mines to remove them before pedestrians encounter them. If they fail, web users also hear the explosion and watch the pedestrians react.

Together they raise an interesting, larger point: just how much of a visualization project non-profit advocacy and outreach itself really is. I’ve written previously about the importance of the vision thing, but I focused more on individual projects instead of the idea of advocacy generally. In many cases, it boils down to this: advocacy means making visible to an audience some aspect of reality that is off their radar or articulating some hidden reason why things are the way they are... then following up with a proposed solution. That is, projecting an augmented reality followed by a vision a different world — an alternate reality colliding with the existing one. The trick is to make these visions clear, compelling, and actionable.