Next to things like natural disasters and disease, the specter of war is one of the only things that threatens to derail the 21st century's long stretch of technological innovation. Now a new app is using augmented reality to remind us of that by focusing on those most impacted by war — children.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has just released a free AR app, developed by the digital agency Nedd, called "Enter the Room" that uses ARKit to briefly transport users to another reality.
But be warned, it's a pretty intense experience.
Like many ARKit apps, after opening it, you're prompted to scan the floor in front of you in order to place a virtual doorway in real space. Once that's done, the door opens, beckoning you to step forward into a the room of a small child.
It's difficult to describe the entire experience without spoiling it. In short, the iPhone app takes you through several stages of the child's life (as represented by the room and its items) as that child's life is affected by local warfare. The entire experience is enhanced by the use of 3D audio, which increases the feeling of immersion in the child's room.
"Conflict has devastating impacts on communities, and especially on children. We hope the story told through this immersive app will give people new insights into the realities of war," said Peter Maurer, the president of the ICRC, in a statement on the organization's website. "It is a vivid reminder of how urban warfare destroys children's bedrooms, their homes, and — tragically — their lives."
The entire experience only takes a few minutes, but it represents four years of a child's life in a particularly harrowing situation. Generally, virtual reality is looked to as what many people call "the empathy engine." And to be sure, this is definitely an experience that could easily work in VR. But by making Enter the Room mobile, via AR, its reach is instantly far greater, as anyone with an ARKit-ready iOS device can experience it without the need of an expensive VR headset and PC.
After the experience is done, users are prompted to visit the organization's website to find out more about the issues surrounding children in conflict zones and what can be done to help them.
Amid all the games, decorating, and enterprise AR apps, such a powerful humanitarian message is a refreshing reminder of some of the other moments AR can help facilitate via smartphones.
"While Pokémon GO and Snapchat have already introduced the world to augmented reality, this is the first time AR has been used to tell the story of the impact of urban conflict," said Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet, director of communications and information management at the ICRC. "With augmented reality, we can create immersive experiences that showcase the humanitarian situation in a new and deeply moving way."
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