CO2 Black: AR Visualization of Philly CO2

For a 6-month interactive digital media workshop class at Drexel University, I gathered a team of peers interested in immersive technology and lead us to create an augmented reality app raising awareness of CO2 emissions in Philadelphia.

Prior to this project, I was the only team member that had used Unity or done AR development, but the team was intrigued by my initial pitch.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the single largest contributing factor to global climate change. What if we could use our phones as windows into a world where CO2 was visualized by clouds of blackness?

With the team on board, I began teaching them Unity + ARKit development, while simultaneously diving into research. Our discovery began with thorough secondary research and lead us to connect with the Franklin Institute. Experts there led us to identify an opportunity to create a training-module based educational app aimed to teach Philadelphia high school students how to become more aware of their carbon footprint.

We then leveraged our research findings to develop storyboards, created a series of cardboard prototypes for early testing, and rapidly iterated in Unity to develop a three-step interactive story arch that rewarded people when they completed CO2 reducing tasks.

Testing different metaphors to visualize CO2
Learning about text legibility in mobile AR

My favorite interaction
I created a grab and drop mechanic that we used to teach people what objects are recyclable and what is not. Grabbing the objects and having to physically move the phone over the recycle bin felt very tangible and was intuitive to new users. It paired well with the friendly 3D objects I made in Google Blocks VR. Screen space UI feedback reinforced good behavior and helped users understand when they made a mistake.

My biggest takeaway
The best AR UI was one that did not interfere with the experience itself unless it directly improved the current view. Most people have never experienced AR before and do not have a mental model for this type of interactive experience. A context-aware interface was essential to our project as it guided users when they needed it the most.

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