The Comfort Pursuit

Present and past, or augmented reality in post-earthquake Christchurch

9da055a4bd20ec130ae62f600b662febIn May 2012, while I was still doing the field work of my research, there was one particular day in Cashel Mall – one of my case study sites – that was recorded on my field journal as “the researchers’ day”. That day I interviewed four people and responded to three requests for interviews.

The first interviewer to approach me was a researcher from the University of Canterbury, also located here in Christchurch. At that stage he showed me an application his lab was testing and asked me a few questions. It was a while ago, but – as far as my memory serves me – he wanted to know if that was a usable and useful application, the feelings and memories that it prompted and asked me to rate it.

The then emerging application is called CityViewAr and has been available for iPhone and Android for over a year now. Not long ago I downloaded and tested it in Cashel Mall.

Following the Christchurch earthquakes many parts of the city became unrecognizable, but this application has the potential of helping tourists to know and locals to remember the city before the earthquakes. It provides photos, text and 3D models of buildings as they used to be before the recent Christchurch earthquakes.  It also shows the streetscape pre-quake, compares it to the current one and provides images of the destruction immediately following the event. In addition, information about buildings – such as photos, brief information and history – are also available.

In the University of Canterbury news website, it is stated that even if you are not in Christchurch, it is possible to see the content as if you were here by using the application to send ‘fake GPS data’. In fact I tried to open the application from home and it asks if I would like to ‘simulate’ the location, but it hasn’t gone any further. However, you can still open the map and access the information of buildings, some pre- and post-earthquake photos and its history.

Recently the application has also been integrated with Google Glass, described as “essentially a smartphone you wear on your face”. The technology will be available to the public next year, in the meantime you can see here the presentation of the cutting-edge technology presented on the news.

This is one of the innovations the earthquakes has prompted. Others are also being developed, and have prompted some questioning, as discussed by Simon Swaffield in The SoLA Blog a few months ago.

Professor Mark Billinghurst, director of the University of Canterbury’s HIT Lab (the Human Interface Technology Laboratory), where the application has been developed, said to The New Zealand Herald that

Following the earthquakes, many buildings in the inner city have been demolished to make way for reconstruction (…). Even for people who have lived in Christchurch all their lives it is difficult to walk through the city and remember what buildings used to be there.

CityViewAr helps preserving the memory and image of what once was Christchurch Central City. However, if it has just advantages for people who are new in this environment, for some locals it can bring sad memories of those days. Some of the interviewees of my research pointed out that, over two years after the earthquake, they still avoided going into the Central City. This made me wonder if, besides the greatness and novelty of the application, it could generate undesirable psychological effects for locals…

What are your thoughts on that?

External references:

HIT Lab NZ – Introduction to CityViewAr

Demonstration: CityViewAR Outdoor AR Visualization, by Gun Lee and Mark Billinghurst

Video demonstration by hitlabnz 

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