One of the key features of new augmented reality applications is persistence — the use of cloud-based anchors to place digital objects in spaces that multiple people can visit and see. Now a group of Stanford students is relying on persistence to deliver on a promise broken by the university’s administration, using virtual signage to augment a space originally designed to raise awareness of on-campus sexual assaults.
In the midst of continued uproar over the 2015 assault of Chanel Miller by Stanford student Brock Turner, Stanford built a contemplative garden at the site, promising to include words from the victim’s impact statement on a physical plaque. But the university twice rejected Miller’s chosen quotes, suggested a confusingly ambiguous alternative, and ultimately dropped plans for the plaque altogether.
The Dear Visitor project uses AR to bring both meaning and Miller’s voice back to the space, which otherwise appears as an unmarked area with benches and a small rock garden. Using an app, the space places virtual objects including two cups, a flashlight, and notes around the site to tell the story of the assault, alongside multiple victim impact statement quotes Miller proposed for the physical plaque. Optional audio enables users to hear the quotes and other information spoken aloud, as well.
As much as the Dear Visitor app does to elevate Miller’s place within the garden, it’s limited by two unfortunate realities of AR: You have to open a standalone app to see everything, and in the absence of real signage, you won’t know to open that app unless you’ve heard about it. To that end, the students behind the project are holding a formal launch event on September 27 to get the word out, and hopefully to convince the university to add the physical signage originally promised — or at least directions to obtain the app.