Charlotte Begley explores an unlikely avenue of medical researchWritten by Charlotte Begley on 2nd April 2019
AR: Saving Lives in Natural Disasters
Sci&Tech Writer Imogen Claire asks whether augmented reality technology has a future in weather forecasting
At the beginning of September, The Weather Channel used augmented reality visualisations to stress the severity of Hurricane Florence as it moved towards the Carolina coast following an official downgrade in category by the National Hurricane Centre. Presenter Erika Navarro explains the simulated weather conditions around her, gesturing at her body to quantify just how high the water will rise and issuing progressive warnings to follow advice and evacuate the affected area.
The innovative and creative mixed reality report was a viral success because it pragmatically showed what Hurricane Florence was capable of. Signs, symbols, and numbers are difficult to relate to, and are perceived differently by each person - for example, -15°C would be considered abnormally cold for the United Kingdom, but that is the average day temperature in the winter months for Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
An Encouraging Future
AR may be the key to successfully communicating serious warnings about climate change and its effects. Despite concerted efforts, the term 'climate change' feels distant and hypothetical - even though it is happening yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Due to the complexity of the Earth's systems, it is near impossible to construct an image of just what will change and how, as it will affect us all in varying mechanisms, scales and rates. When AR is used like this, it becomes all too real.
“'Integrating AR into forecasting reports could quite literally save lives'
As weather trends intensify and become more unpredictable, integrating AR into forecasting reports could quite literally save lives. Environmental data such as snowdrift could be shown similarly to the Hurricane Florence flooding, and allow residents to prepare effectively and therefore reduce risk of leaving the house when it is not absolutely necessary. Visibility due to fog, rain or pollution could be quantified to show exactly how much one could see in those conditions and encourage slower, more careful driving. Wind strength could be translated from km per hour into a simulation of the power the wind has on natural and man-made surroundings. Finally, moving from hypothetical situations and into reality, there are places that are already bearing the brunt of climatic shifts. Quantifying the rise in sea level or the intensity of heatwaves in these locations may iterate their stories to the wider world, and mobilise aid and media attention as the number of climate refugees surely increases in the coming years.
Evidently, adding this human element to climatic and environmental reporting is significantly affecting. With any luck, the positive reception that this example experienced will incite a snowballing of similar techniques to really represent the sobering actuality of extreme weather events.