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‘Augmented reality doesn’t put you in a different world—it just makes changes to your current one’

A group of Northeastern students have harnessed the power of augmented reality to help community organizations in Toronto better share their stories with people in their neighborhoods.

The project was part of a workshop that taught the students how to tell stories using augmented reality, a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world.

“The mixture of a physical setting and virtual imaging is particularly effective for simulating social encounters,” said David Tames, an assistant academic specialist at Northeastern who ran the workshop as part of a Dialogue of Civilizations program. “It challenges you to imagine how things might be different or to make visible something that was before unseen.”

After learning design and production techniques, students created apps for four local nonprofits using augmented reality. They partnered with Hoverlay, a Boston-based startup that helped them code the apps.

Four students worked with Newcomer Kitchen, a nonprofit where female refugees from Syria cook meals and then share the proceeds from their sale.

“Augmented reality doesn’t put you in a different world, it just makes changes to your current one.”

Chase Broder Northeastern student

The students used Apple’s Augmented Reality kit to design an app that introduce users to the people behind the food. A virtual paper bag pops up on the user’s smartphone or tablet, with facts about the meal and the woman who made it. Tap the screen, and an image of an ingredient that was used in the meal will appear.

Another group of students worked with “Convenience Stories,” a nonprofit that strives to inspire people to shop at corner stores in Toronto. The students created a smartphone app that enables users to learn more about the corner stores on Queen Street in Toronto, including descriptions of each shop, interviews with the owners, and Yelp reviews.

“Augmented reality doesn’t put you in a different world, it just makes changes to your current one,” said Chase Broder, a student who worked with Convenience Stories. “Telling these stories gives you a much more realistic, but different perspective.”

At the end of the Dialogue program, students attended Sheffield Doc/Fest, a nonfiction storytelling festival in England. Armed with full delegate passes, they had the opportunity to test out some complex augmented reality storytelling applications.

“I’ve been going to Sheffield for five years,” Tames said. “This is the first year I’ve seen the alternative realities exhibition go from a quaint little sideshow to a major strand of the festival.”