augmented reality in urban planning | by Giles Crouch | Digital anthropologist | nerd for tech
You’ve been walking for a while in historic downtown Halifax, a medium-sized city in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, when you come across the Public gardens. It’s July, everything must be in bloom! It’s time to check. You wear the new Augmented reality goggles that came out earlier in the year that helped you not get lost in the city’s downtown core and found some great information about this historic city along the way. As you stroll through the spectacularly manicured gardens, you’ll almost forget you’re surrounded by towering buildings. You see interesting trees, plants, and flowers, and every time you look, your AR glasses bring up interesting facts about them. You even save things to your smartphone for later, then take photos with your smartphone and share them with your friends on social media. You get a bit lost, but the glasses tell you how to navigate and even bring up a discount code for the ice cream stand at the edge of the gardens. Perfect! It’s hot !
This may just be one way to navigate urban and even rural centers in the near future. Maybe even when hiking in areas close to data services via cellular 5G or similar networks. Since the launch of smartphones just over ten years ago, we have deeply integrated them into our lives. From personal uses such as note taking, task management and finances to more social activities via social media. Most of today’s smartphones are also capable of performing some cool feats using augmented reality (AR). But consumer adoption of AR remains extremely low and very relegated to small usage scenarios.
Google hoped it would take off with the introduction of Glass, but that failed with consumers while it won with industrial applications. Snap launched its version, but these also remain in use in a niche. Rumors abound that Apple is about to launch theirs. May be. But the uses of AR remain quite limited to games, medicine, some navigation and industrial purposes.
But it could play a key role in urban planning and architecture. There’s a company that’s using AR to walk customers through a building under construction, to see what the end result will be. Maybe real estate agents will use it to help potential buyers see what they can do with a home?
City planners could use augmented reality to place bridges, visualize traffic intersections for redevelopment, or get visuals of the impact of wind on building development and pedestrian traffic on a street. By working with landscapers, they were able to see ground-level projects in the real world with AR overlays. Potentially significant urban planning projects could be overlaid for citizens traveling to the area, such as those who live in the neighborhood, to view and give feedback on the project. This could allow greater citizen participation in such projects.
Additional layers of information could be implemented to help orient themselves in a city, give tourists information about buildings as they walk around, or make queries for nearby museums, restaurants, and shops.
For now though, the use of AR in urban planning and design remains quite limited. Some product and technology trials have been attempted in Europe and North America, but these have been largely driven by academia and no clear commercial application has come to the fore. Some architects are starting to look at the options, but city planners are often working with limited budgets and these technologies are still expensive to develop and deploy. There’s also the issue of inclusivity for those who can’t afford a smartphone, let alone smart glasses.
Although there are exciting opportunities and applications, augmented reality is still on the cusp of major consumer acceptance and use. It took a decade for smartphones to become so deeply intertwined with our daily lives. Even smarthome technology is stalled and not seeing much growth.
Technologies can take time to be absorbed by society and the rapid pace of current developments far exceeds society’s ability to find value, socially and individually, in how it fits into culture and people. systems of our present world. Augmented reality is untapped, but holds enormous potential in the smart cities of the future.