CERES Uses Augmented Reality Technology to Connect People with Nature

There is magic in the air at CERES (the Centre for Education and Research in Environment). This nature park is a hive of activity. Its community veggie gardens and parks are abuzz with locals, and students young and old flock to its School of Nature and Climate.

CERES’ mission is simple: to help people to fall in love with the Earth again. Empowered by a $50,000 grant from Telematics, CERES is using AR (Augmented Reality) technology to develop a self-guided nature walk through its resplendent habitat on Wurundjeri Country, Melbourne.

The vision

CERES’ mission to connect people with nature may sound challenging, in an age when we seem to be increasingly married to our technological devices. But engaging with the environment doesn’t necessitate a total digital detox – far from it. Supported by a grant from Telematics, CERES partnered with world-leading immersive tech studio PHORIA on an ambitious project to use augmented reality to promote engagement with the park. Their goal was to enable visitors to walk CERES with overlays of imagery, animation, video and sound, using an application on their mobile devices.

The challenge

AR technology relies on recognisable shapes and structures, so it is well-suited and often used for guided tours of indoor spaces, like museums and galleries. With vision and innovation, CERES and PHORIA were able to apply this technology to an ever-evolving outdoor environment. Designers created a 3D model of CERES – no mean feat, as the property spans 10 acres. Developers added many spatial points to accommodate the changing light, shapes and conditions of nature.

The outcome

The walk follows an augmented reality path through CERES park, full of exciting interactions, reflective moments and informative engagements. There are five stops along the way, first and foremost, a Welcome to Country. Walkers then proceed to stops focused on biodiversity, nature and people, community, and food systems. Visitors are invited to explore nature with their head, heart and hands through words, sounds and imagery.

Sieta Beckwith, CERES’ Narrative Director, said:

The assistance received from the Telematics Trust has empowered CERES to elevate both visitor and student learning experiences by integrating immersive Virtual Reality simulations and educational tools. This support enables exploration of environmental concepts in a more accessible manner. The tools, encompassing Virtual Reality, images, videos, and audio, enhance learning opportunities beyond regular working hours, addressing peak-hour constraints.

This project is a testament to CERES’ belief that education about the environment should be accessible to all. AR technology is free to the public to use on their devices, builds wellbeing through connection to nature, and incorporates many modes of delivery to include people of all abilities. Additionally, CERES are now engaging with a new cohort, those interested in technology and augmented reality, who might not necessarily be their usual visitor, customer or nature lover.

According to Beckwith, “This grant has not only expanded organisational capabilities but has also facilitated the development of innovative approaches to engage the community in embracing more sustainable lifestyles and fostering a deeper connection with the Earth.

The future

The AR walk promises to delight the more than 60,000 secondary school students who visit CERES each year. Looking ahead, CERES aims to work with students and create professional development opportunities for teachers around using STEM and technology in environmental education.

By educating and empowering people to care for the environment, CERES’ inspiring project furthers the Telematics Trust’s vision to build a better future through technology. But don’t just take our word for it – visit CERES, and explore it for yourself.

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