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The moa strides again with new AR app

A moa is the newest bird at the Otorohanga Kiwi house, but it’s not what you might expect.

The North Island giant brown moa struts around the Rotary Park opposite the Kiwi house thanks to a prototype app by Augview, the Auckland software company that specialises in geo-augmented reality.

The technology uses GPS to position 3D models and animations in real world places, rather than the markers typically used by AR apps to trigger animations.

Visitors to the park will use a mobile device to get a live camera feed overlaid with a digital feed generated out of the 3D game software Unity, which figures out the viewer’s location.

The virtual birds are 3D models linked via game flow mechanics. Because the mobile device tells the game engine where the visitor is, the direction they’re looking in and their proximity to the virtual bird, the viewer gets a unique interaction.

The 3D models and bird behaviour were guided by experts Trevor Worthy, a paleozoologist known for his moa research, and zoologist Lizzy Perret, wildlife manager at the Otorohanga Kiwi house.

“Together with Trevor and Lizzy, we’ve tried to make sure the moa looks as authentic as possible,” says Augview business development manager Melanie Langlotz

Augview has developed a prototype app backed by seed funding from the Otorohanga District Council. The ultimate experience will include different types of moa and other animals, says Langlotz.

Augview now wants to create an official app for download and is taking to Kickstarter to raise $250,000 to redesign the app interface and work on a virtual return of the Haast eagle.

Augview’s work is part of the Otorohanga community’s wider vision on digital education. President of the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park, Jo Russell, says the region has been working on ways to improve the career prospects of young people interested in IT with opportunities in the town.

The park has partnered with the local secondary school and tertiary organisations to offer tertiary qualifications for secondary students.

“Our thinking is that by putting this app in Otorohanga we can create a platform that these students can populate with their work and a digital place to hang their portfolio.”

Its longer term vision is for Otorohanga to become New Zealand’s first virtual town, which might see virtual buzzy bees and other Kiwiana inhabiting the region’s parks.

Meanwhile, Augview is exploring the possibilities of AR glasses after a visit to Meta in the US. Augview expects glasses to overtake mobile devices for AR apps because they overcome issue with screen reflection and field of view, and offer a hands free platform, says CEO Mike Bundock. 

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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