SXSW EDU Launch Winner Our Worlds Bringing Native American Culture to Life Through Mobile-Based Immersive Reality
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Take a leisurely walk along the beautiful La Jolla Shores Beach in San Diego, and you may feel the warm sand beneath your feet. However, if you use the innovative Our Worlds app, which won the prestigious 2022 SXSW EDU Launch Competition, you will experience much more. Through the power of augmented reality, you can witness handmade tule boats from the local Kumeyaay tribe right there on the beach.
The main purpose behind the launch of Our Worlds is to showcase Native American history using modern technology, which aligns with the founder and CEO Kilma Lattin’s vision of merging "code to culture" in order to propel Native American civilization forward. Our Worlds provides a comprehensive suite of cutting-edge technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, to capture all the components that define a culture.
Our Worlds has developed its own proprietary XR360 technology, which combines 360-degree video with additional content. This includes written and spoken Native languages overlaid on everyday objects and landscapes, as well as the insertion of historical artifacts into real-time environments. By merging modern and historical images, users can witness what a particular place looked like at different points in time.
Catherine Eng, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Our Worlds, describes the tool they have created as a means to provide a glimpse of an alternative reality in a different location.
The app itself offers multiple avenues for exploration. One option allows users to virtually explore Native artifacts through a hologram-like function, while another enables them to experience the items, such as the tule boats, in their original historic locations. For example, while on the beach, users can open the app and use the camera mode to scan across the sand. The tule boats will then appear along the shore in an augmented reality state. Accompanied by narration from Kumeyaay professor Stanley Rodriguez, users can learn about the history of these boats and how they were constructed using the reed-like tule plant.
The geolocation settings of the app personalize Native American history based on the user’s location and provide primary-source accounts. For instance, there is a lesson on the Choctaw Code Talkers, featuring a four-minute video that reconstructs the messages used during World War I. This vividly demonstrates how the Choctaw language played a pivotal role in altering the course of the war.
Lattin explains that Our Worlds has the ability to geolocate cultural content wherever it is relevant. Whether it’s stories in Austin, Texas, or any other place, they can create and geolocate stories accordingly. In its short existence, Our Worlds has expanded its content to include locations in San Diego, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and even France. Lattin emphasizes that they are imbuing greater meaning into these places by providing an augmented reality experience that connects users to the history and culture.
According to Lattin, augmented reality allows users to witness life as it was centuries ago, offering a glimpse into the past. He suggests that if you find yourself in modern-day Times Square and want to delve into its historical roots, you can use Our Worlds to digitally erase the current buildings and connect with primary sources who possess knowledge about Times Square in its earlier days. This enriches our understanding of the places we inhabit, work in, and travel to.
Eng believes that the potential of Our Worlds as a tool for K-12 curriculum is immense. She envisions incorporating captivating stories into classroom teaching and is eager to explore opportunities to serve educators in the best possible way.
Lattin sees the bigger picture of Our Worlds as enabling education to unfold wherever you go. As they continue to expand their library of primary source content and digitize maps to showcase historical landscapes, drop artifacts onto sandy beaches, and narrate compelling historical stories, Lattin asserts that this endeavor is not limited to Native American culture alone. It encompasses all cultures and is about fostering a communal approach to building a digital future centered on immersive realities.
Since winning the SXSW Launch competition, Lattin has been engaging with other cultural groups to help them share their stories through the Our Worlds platform. He expresses the desire to serve a multitude of communities and cultural narratives, aiming to make the experience relevant and meaningful for everyone. Lattin envisions a different approach to constructing digital futures, one that embraces immersive realities and inclusivity.
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