How is Extended Reality Scaling Up to Fight Climate Change?

The purpose of extended reality (XR) has always been to create an immersive and engaging world for us. But did you know, now we can use the same technology to combat climate change? Well, yes, we can. Now the extended reality, which is a convergence of virtual and realities, is inspiring action for climate change. This is an outstanding example of how one can address the rising concerns about global warming and related areas while bringing a technological transformation in the modern sciences. As the humans’ focus has shifted towards the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in less urgency in climate solutions, some companies are already offering lucrative illustrations on how we can level up our fight for the same.

Conservation of our green blanket of forests is the topmost priority. These ecological biomes are homes to countless plants and animal species, source of many livelihoods, regulate the global climate, and the well-known fact, of providing us with the essential oxygen. Tree, is a VR based program that motivates people to protect our rainforests by giving them the experience of what sort of problems surface in these areas. This virtual-reality project transforms the user into a rainforest tree. With arms as branches and body as the trunk, users experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and witness its fate on the devastating effects due to loss of rainforests to deforestation and wildfires. This initiative is based on the goal of encouraging climate change skeptics to be a part of the global movement fighting for forest conservation.

Last month on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, National Geographic launched its first augmented reality-enabled cover to highlight the catastrophic outcomes of climate change in years to come. The interactive feature built using Facebook’s Spark AR Studio software shows a cautionary outlook on projected climate conditions for 12 global cities in 2070. These cities include Chennai, India; Hanoi; Istanbul; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kuwait City; Lima, Peru; London; Los Angeles; Miami; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Santiago, Chile. This AR version displays a 3D computer-generated globe that smartphone users can walk around as it rotates. Users can observe if the climate in the selected cities will remain the same as compared to now, or will cities witness new changes like Vietnam’s Hanoi in fifty years from now. It can be freely accessed by everyone on Instagram.

Extended reality-based experiences like 360VR Flood Experience or Flood VR, enlighten the local citizens about the dangers of flash floods on rising sea levels in their areas. Such projects have a slider like a feature that enables participants to witness communities and shorelines as the water levels increase. Experts hope these similar activities would start a conversation and help folks visualize the impacts of climate change and the solutions, and also discuss the trade-offs between them.

In parallel to that, Virtual Planet is also following the same road. By using drone photography, the team at virtual planet take thousands of photos of any given territory, environment or property, and use these pictures to create Virtual reality, 3D models. The effects of climate change in the futuristic world are then applied and then presented to local inhabitants to observe how climate change is slowly altering their habitat. The company is planning to add updates about potential solutions in those scenarios in the subsequent versions.

Another extended reality company called Xennial Digital is contributing to climate awareness by creating thought-provoking digital experiences for K12 students. Their Climate Change app focuses on educating students on different probable predictions of climate change over the next 100 years. This ranges data points like ice fraction, precipitation, air temperature, ocean temperature, and sea-level rise.

Xennial worked closely with the University of Miami Division of Meteorology & Physical Oceanography, which provided the data sets (which span 100 years) and validated the models as the team built the application and is a recipient of Magic Leap’s Independent Creator Grant.

Not only that,but XR is also employed to draw people’s minds towards other significant issues like carbon emissions, animal husbandry, so on, and the impact of the same of fragile ecosystems. For instance, IMMERSE, developed by the Hydrous, is a 360-degree VR film aimed to generate awareness and scientific understanding of coral reefs and the threat they face due to rising ocean temperatures. It connects the user to the underwater world and encourages them to understand life below the surface.

Greenland Melting is another such immersive approach created by Emblematic in collaboration with FRONTLINE and NOVA. It provides an insight into the arctic landscape in light of global warming using 360-degree video, CG models, 3D data visualizations, and holograms of NASA researchers.

With the early onset of summer, unpredictable rainfalls, polar ice caps meltdowns, we are slowly starting to notice the harmful side of climate change. Some of these may be irreversible, yet we can use technologies at our disposal, like extended reality spread awareness and open up conservations, spark innovative minds, motivate them to come up with solutions to tackle this crisis for the greater good of the planet and human civilization.