Soil micro-environments with augmented reality

For the final I experimented with projection and augmented reality (Unity & Vuforia) to tell the story of how plants remediate their environments. I narrowed this down to phytoremediation with sunflowers, specifically, to make this manageable for a week-long project. Sunflowers accumulate lead from the soil, but like all bioremediators, they then become toxic themselves. I also wanted to show the complexity of the micro-environments in soil. My grand aspiration was to create one of these experiences for each of the ways to remediate soil. 

I put everything together with some text and animations. Many of the soil images I put up on Vuforia as tests got much better tracking ratings when I made them brighter.  I made a big composite image of these trackable parts, and then used screenshots of the composite image as my image targets.


Gabe helped me find 3D models of bacteria and bugs, but I found they had so many vertices and faces they created a lag on the phone. I tried using Blender to “decimate” the objects but this made me want to throw my computer out the window. Instead, I used Blender to identify the objects with he fewest faces and used those. Gabe later suggested correcting this with shaders for mobile in Unity.

It might have been useful to add some more information with audio, since it seems better to avoid lots of text that you’d need to read. I would have liked to incorporate sound but couldn’t find a simple way to attach this to an event, like a found target or a rendered object. I’m not sure this would have added to the experience, since you can see multiple targets at the same time. It’s easier to attach sound to a camera, and maybe I could have added some ambient noise. 

My original project proposal:

Ready Player One

Ready Player One has been appropriately critiqued for being a superficial page-turner, propelled forward by pages on pages of cultural references and tired tropes. These aspects of the book made it exhausting to read, but there were nonetheless a some compelling ideas: the parallels of this VR-scape to the present day internet–particularly around its corporatization, and the details around the pervasiveness and integration of this future VR world.

Aspects of the immersive VR world where the book largely takes place reminded me of Sarah Rothberg’s description of a future work environment–that we may one day just put on headsets that function as our desktops. Wade Watts and his peers go to school in this VR world, but they also maintain robust personal lives, learn, play, and participate in this parallel economy. The reality that everyone is in fact connected to an actual, physical body is something to be exploited by those with power, who can kill. One troubling aspect in this respect was how little processing the characters do when they experience deaths of those close to them. Although, Wade does go to somewhat thoughtful measures to protect his physical body and his real identity. The digital ephemera of the dead person’s avatar is not something that’s addressed–something curiously lacking considering this is already a problem. The only person who gets this kind of forethought is Halliday.

Anonymity in this world is important, which was interesting to reflect upon since this has largely been lost on the modern, social internet. The commercial progress of the current internet seemed all the more apparent when taken to the extreme as it was in the book, where people go to great lengths and spend a lot of money to curate their VR lives. Halliday and OASIS represent some techno-utopian vision of a future VR-scape that has already failed in its lower-fidelity precursor (sad/boring/fiefdom/current internet).