A new augmented reality experience initiated by Oxford-based environmental charity Earthwatch Europe allows audiences to immerse themselves in the challenge of protecting a city from the effects of the climate crisis.
Working in collaboration with creative agency Atticus Digital, Earthwatch has created a virtual, built-up urban area. Through a series of interactions, people are able to introduce natural elements like trees and green roofs in different combinations. These natural solutions can help protect the city from the effects of the climate crisis, such as flooding and heatwaves, but also provide other benefits such as homes for wildlife and improving people’s well-being.
The process of making an AR app that showcases a detailed VR map required innovative, multidisciplinary and collaboration.
Instead of using a QR code to trigger the AR, the experience is based on a physical map of an illustrative city, designed specifically for this project. Users can visualize and examine the map in AR with tablets. When the tablet scans the map through its camera, it triggers the AR app with detailed settings. Once the AR is triggered, it brings up a 3D animation on top of the physical map, as well as additional interactive information.
The map is quite big, and a capable device is required to show the entirety of the map and its components.
Ensuring stable tracking of the map was important as this could result in vibration of the 3D model, which would spoil the effect.
The augmented reality project builds on Earthwatch’s international scientific research. The benefits of natural solutions vary according to local conditions, their placement, quantity and degree of management. By leading research in 17 major cities across nine countries, including the U.K., the Independent Research Organization aims to gain new insights into the effectiveness and associated benefits of natural processes locally.
Cities are increasingly vulnerable to the consequences of the climate crisis, including more severe and frequent floods and heatwaves. Urbanization is also a major factor putting pressure on our wildlife, with 41% of U.K. species having declined since the 1970s.
These environmental issues can have serious, long-term impacts on the environment, economy and society, and are only expected to worsen in the face of climate change and growing urban populations.
“Our cities are under tremendous pressure from rapid urbanization and the effects of the climate crisis,” explained Victor Beumer, senior research lead at Earthwatch Europe. “We must harness every tool possible to explain the issues and find innovative and collaborative solutions to those problems. Augmented reality is an exciting technology and is a fun and memorable way to bring alive the science of nature-based solutions, and the benefits they can bring to cities. This experience focuses on actions which those working in the built-environment sector – such as local authorities, planners, architects, landscapers, builders and policy-makers – could take to create more sustainable cities.”
As part of their international research, Earthwatch Europe has been collaborating with corporate partner HSBC, major research institutions in each of the 17 cities, as well as regional policy leaders. The charity will share findings from the data gathered, to help inform policy and the strategic management of nature-based solutions.
Earthwatch will host a free debate, “Nature and the City: Tackling the Climate Crisis” at the Royal Geographical Society, London on April 22, with a sneak peek of the new AR experience.
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