Augmented Reality and the Impact on Place
Despite their popularity, mobile GPS applications still leave plenty of room for confusion, particularly in unfamiliar places when users need them most. Programs such as Google Maps guide users from an aerial level, or render an ambiguously geometric and digitized world at best. What if map services were able to provide navigation from a user’s point of view and accurately reference the world around them?
AR City allows users to navigate the city in new ways.
As augmented reality systems improve, this highly accurate wayfinding service is not far off. Applications such as AR City use computer vision technology that allows 3D geospatial information to interact with the user’s environment. Colourful arrows and pathways display clear paths on user’s mobile screens, overlaid on top of the world around them.
In addition to navigation services, AR City also wants to provide people with the ability to discover new places. When walking around the city, user-generated reviews will appear on the screen, giving people the opportunity to learn more about their surroundings.
But what ever happened to the flâneur? There’s much to be said for the act of wandering and learning through discovery and surprise. Will this technology help travelers get the local scoop, or lead to information overload and over-dependency on our phones to get around? While navigation technology can be helpful, these services may hinder our spatial mapping abilities if we never really need to understand exactly where we are. As AR technology can tell us where we want to go and blur out the rest, it’s important to think about the other functions of our streets and sidewalks beyond narrow-visioned transportation networks. City streets provide fundamental opportunities for spontaneous interaction which must be supported for to the social wellness and joy of our cities.
Embracing Memory Lane
Another way that AR can help people learn about their environment is through enhancing shared experiences. Membit, a geospatial photo sharing app, provides users with the ability to geo-tag images and leave them for others to enjoy. While this app can be used as a form of social media, it also provides immense opportunities for education. Users can upload historical “membits” to a specific location which could lead to greater contextual understanding of place, through programs such as guided walking tours.
Taking this one step further, what if this technology could also be used as a means of collective healing and restorative justice? Cities are often rich in painful histories that are either erased or ignored as a means of “moving forward”. Painful as they are, historical traumas such as war and natural disasters force us to re-build and re-define our cities in pivotal ways. For those who have been most harmed by these injustices, navigating through altered space can cause great pain when historical landscapes are replaced with new streetscapes. Memory sharing apps like Membit could be used as a way for people to upload stories and images of their experiences and use augmented reality as a tool for collective healing.
As augmented reality blurs the borders of the “real world” it’s timely to reflect upon our experiences of what’s around us. Will advances in AR to help us see clearer, or leave us blinded from the world around us?