Augmented reality research meets conservation at REWILD Our Planet

20 August 2019

Future visits to museums and public exhibits will increasingly involve Augmented Reality (AR) experiences. By overlaying digital information onto the physical world, AR has the potential to create highly engaging and immersive experiences for museum visitors.  In addition, designing to create experiences of Social AR for groups of visitors will enable new forms of cultural interaction between visitors and digital content in museum installations. But how do we design Social AR installations in a way that makes them enjoyable for visitors while also ensuring that they convey key information about museum exhibits?

To answer this question, IDL Research Fellow Dr Ryan Kelly and PhD student Brandon Syiem recently visited Singapore’s ArtScience Museum to investigate the user experience of an innovative new exhibit, REWILD Our Planet.

REWILD Our Planet, which opened simultaneously at 3 museums around the world, aims to create an immersive Social AR experience that engages visitors in considerations about the role of human beings in shaping the future of the world’s natural environments. The exhibit poses important questions about whether immersive, AR-enabled storytelling practices can positively contribute to increased public awareness and enhanced user engagement in environmental issues.

In studying REWILD Our Planet, Ryan and Brandon were able to identify key lessons and challenges that surface in multi-model exhibits that implement AR features, and gain an understanding of how AR elements can be optimally integrated to deliver critical information to visitors of future exhibits.

A social experience without borders

REWILD Our Planet is an ongoing partnership with a prolific series of global partners, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Netflix, PHORIA and Google. The exhibition launched simultaneously at three locations: the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Dolby Studio in New York City, USA, and We TheCurious in Bristol, UK.

Powered by PHORIA’s CAPTUR3D platform and Google’s ARCore technology, REWILD is underpinned by a scalable AR network that allows museum visitors at multiple international locations to come together and connect in a shared AR environment.

The central CAPTUR3D software-server works to ensure consistency and synchronization between the AR environments and multiple user-connected devices in the exhibition hub spaces. Acting as the human ‘voices’ of the project, WWF ambassadors and other attendants are also present to extend conversations and facilitate positive interactions with visitors.

Cutting-edge interactive media

Each visitor that attends REWILD Our Planet is taken through a compassion-driven narrative which encourages communication between audience members and a deeper connection with the content presented. The individual is led through the human impacts on Earth’s biological communities, known as biomes, including forests, oceans, grasslands and frozen ice landscapes. The CAPTUR3D system ensures the smooth intersection of AR technology with video footage and sound from the Netflix Original series Our Planet, so visitors are surrounded by the sensory experiences of each AR location they ‘visit’.

The exhibition centres on the journey of the visitor around a highly interactive ‘Learn, Play and Act’ model, which includes:

The ‘Learn’ Space

A cutting-edge voting system based on multiplayer-gameplay experiences, where visitors can choose which biome to visit by standing in the corresponding zone.

The ‘Play’ Space

Interactive 3D landscapes that present environments where visitors can collaborate with one another to successfully ‘REWILD’ the landscape, adding greenery and geological features to bring the ‘wilderness’ back to their chosen space.

The Act Space

The final destination gives each visitor the choice to perform an interactive ‘Pledge for the Planet’, joining Sir David Attenborough in his request for a New Deal for Nature and People in 2020 at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Research into the outcomes of the REWILD Our Planet AR experience, and how to further refine future iterations of similar exhibition experiences, has already been communicated back to PHORIA and WWF. The findings are now being used as a foundation for further investigations into the user experience of Social AR in The University of Melbourne’s Human-Computer Interaction.