Visualizing Impact Through Augmented Reality

for Aviz INRIA

During a research internship at the data visualization group of the French National Comupter Research Institute – INRIA, I explored the potential of utilizing concrete scales in data visualization through augmented reality. The app I built in Unity with Google ARCore faced the user with the externalized consequence of their consumption by visualizing a years worth of their trash through the viewfinder of their smart device.

The advent of low-cost virtual and augmented reality in the last decade has brought about billions in funding and a litany of questions of how to best utilize the new medium.

My first a-ha moment was when I first looked up at the Titanosaur through a pair of Google Cardboard googles.

Many modern implementations of data visualizations that utilize AR or VR attempt to shoehorn traditionally two-dimensional visualizations to an interactive three-dimensional experience with little added benefit.

I understood the main advantage of these mediums was not to map abstract scales onto a new environment but to utilize the environment with concrete scales; leveraging the users innate sense of dimensional space and everyday objects to visualize otherwise impossible experiences.

I had the opportunity to further research this notion during my internship at the data visualization research group Aviz, part of the French National Comupter Research Institute – INRIA outside of Paris, France

I was able to consult with researchers who had long been studying the idea of Embedded data visualizations, where-in a visualization was deeply integrated into the physical spaces, objects and entities to which the data refers. 

Link to paper

They were also able to point me in the direction of previous research into concrete scales 

Link to paper

With a realm of research to dive into I chose the topic of individual waste production as a lens through which to explore my implementation.

The idea was to afford users the experience of visualizing one year’s worth of personal waste using the concrete scale of a trash bag. The visualization would be situated in front of them through an augmented reality application.

I chose to learn the Unity 3D game platform for it’s versatile build platform options and AR support. The research, design and development took place over the course of four months.