How can Augmented Reality be used for social good?

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews

In Blog, Empower Life, Moments, Tech For Good

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Augmented Reality (AR) mixes fantasy and reality by projecting an AR object over the real world. This allows you to see a mixture of real life and computer-generated life through your device.

AR is similar to virtual reality (VR), but different. While VR aims to drop users into a convincing artificial world, AR enhances the real world by layering useful or entertaining computer-generated images over it.

It’s a really exciting new medium and is being used for all sorts of entertainment, education and marketing purposes.

For example, IKEA is using AR to allow customers to place furniture in their home before they buy it. Car makers like VW are close to launching cars with AR-enabled windscreens to help people navigate.

Like many technologies in their infancy, the first iterations are rather basic but with the release of iOS 11 from Apple, with an AR Kit built in, we’re about to see more advanced uses of the technology made accessible to a much wider audience.

While Pokemon Go (perhaps the best known example of AR) was used by some charities, AR can also be used to create innovative experiences for social good organisations. From interactive learning experiences, to fundraising, AR is a great way of making social issues tangible in ways we’ve never been able to before.

Here are some examples of already using AR to further their cause: .

Add to the arts

“If you can’t go to the Louvre, AR brings the Louvre to you.”

World-famous galleries contain some of the most beautiful and important art works ever created. But not everyone can afford to travel the world to experience seeing the art first-hand.

Using Augmented Reality, creative video agency RYOT recreated Paris’ renowned Louvre Museum at a warehouse in Los Angeles, bringing art to local children.

By holding an iPad in front of AR-enabled picture frames, paintings suddenly filled the empty spaces through augmented reality.

Museums and galleries can now showcase their collection outside of their site-specific venues and bring their work to people less able to access their specific locations.

Art galleries can also enhance the experience of art lovers on the premises. For example, the British Museum used AR hot spots to offer more information about their collection. You could walk up to nearly any painting in any museum and the AR recognition worked on it, using LLA (Longitude, Latitude, Altitude) to navigate.

Help with healthcare

In healthcare, AR could literally save lives.

One of the cleverest applications has been ARnatomy’s use of the technology in medical education to enable students and teachers to pinpoint exactly types of bone, whilst also revealing relevant information about it on screen.

This allows medical students to abandon heavy textbooks, and even better, manipulate a tangible skeletal model without ever having to meet a real patient.

But it’s not just medical students who can benefit from AR. Vipaar is a service for practicing surgeons. Using AR a remote surgeon can project his hands onto the display of an on-site surgeon wearing AR enabled glasses. This enables them to point and guide the hands of the on-site surgeon, who may be less experienced in a particular type of surgery.

And it’s already been put to use. A University of Alabama surgical team performed one of the first surgeries in conjunction with Google Glass, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display.

AR even has applications for more every day procedures.

For example, 40% of IVs miss on the first attempt at finding a vein, so a medical company called AccuVein have invented an AR scanner that projects over skin and shows nurses and doctors where various veins, valves and bifurcations are in a patient’s body.

This has been used on more than 10 million patients so far, and made finding a vein on the first attempt 3.5x more likely. You could even see it make an appearance in your local doctor’s surgery in the near future!

Help people see again

Most of us will benefit from a different perspective provided to us by AR. But for some people it will literally change the way they see the world.

Most people who are classified as legally blind actually retain some vision, but may not be able to pick out faces and obstacles, particularly in low light. Because of this, AR could make it easier for some people with sight impairment to explore their surroundings.

VA-ST have built software that can be taught to recognise 3D objects and then identify them within a scene. When coupled with their SmartSpecs glasses, it provides a new way of enhancing vision for many people who are legally blind or partially sighted.

For people with sight impairments, this can mean the confidence to find lost items, or navigate unusual environments.

Source spots for solar panels

Our villages, towns and cities are full of roofs, just waiting to be turned into solar power stations. All we need to do to find them is Look Up!

Made by Possible, thecarbon cutting campaign, Look Up harnesses smartphone tech to let anyone size up a roof for solar panels in seconds – no special knowledge required. You even get points for finding the best sites. It’s a bit like Pokémon Go, but for mapping your local area’s solar potential.

Here’s how Look Up works:

  1. Find a roof that you think might look good with solar panels on and fire up the app to check it out.
  2. In two simple steps you can add the roof to the 10:10 treasure map. Then find out how much power it could produce by adding a few more details.
  3. Share your find on social media and climb up the leaderboard.

By adding roofs to Look Up’s treasure map, users can help show the massive untapped potential for solar power in the UK, making the case for a renewable-powered future that bit stronger and the move towards it a little bit closer.

Other uses of AR for social good

Here are a few other ideas of AR for social good that we’d love to see.

See the supply chain: AR is perfectly suited for helping consumers decide what to buy. What if while you did your shopping you could see the inequity of a product’s supply chain, the environmental costs, the context behind each product? Would it change what you bought?

Respond to emergencies: First responders, police and firefighters often arrive at chaotic scenes of emergencies and need to make sense of the environment and navigate a place they’ve never been. Could AR help by showing emergency services a virtual map of the emergency site, giving them “X-ray vision” to see underground water and power lines, avoiding potential danger?

Promote understanding of mental health issues: If you think about it, AR is a lot like experiencing an hallucination. AR could be a good way of reducing misconceptions and increasing empathy for people who live with symptoms like psychosis.

Have fun with fundraisers: Although we don’t think this has been officially released to the public yet, JustGiving’s Jonathan Waddingham was given early access to Facebook’s AR studio and used it to show us how AR could be used to help fundraisers celebrate when they reach their goals.

How else can Augmented Reality be used for social good? Leave your examples of AR for Good in the comments, contact us or tweet us at @montfortio.


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