Indigital using augmented reality for traditional storytelling

The Australian startup works with traditional owners to help them share cultural narratives, language, and storyteling through augmented and mixed reality.

In 2014, Mikaela Jade started what she called the world's first indigenous augmented and mixed reality company, Indigital, but it wasn't an easy venture, she told the Dell Technologies Forum in Sydney last week.

"I had to cold call augmented reality companies from all around the world saying, 'Hi, I'm a woman in Australia I want to make remote area augmented reality'," she said. "Everyone was like, 'Yeah, right. Did you say you're Aboriginal as well? Wow'."

She said that after finally connecting with someone in England, Jade was taught via Skype how exactly to "do" augmented reality production and image recognition.

"Over a period of about 18 months, I'd get on Skype at eleven at night after doing my ranger gig during the day and learn all these new technologies over Skype -- rinse and repeat basically until I learnt how to do it," she said.

See also: Mixed reality in business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Jade grew up on the Georges River, near Cabramatta in Sydney's southwest. She said she grew up not knowing her heritage.

"I was disconnected from my culture, at the same time I was working as a park ranger and I was responsible for all these signs you see in the national park-- they're often metal -- and it really seemed incongruent to me that we had metal signs in front of 60,000 year old cultural sites with the sign expressing the learning about the site through the lens of an anthropologist or an archaeologist, rather than our own people," she said.

"When I saw augmented reality I thought, 'Wow, imagine you could just put your phone up to a cultural place or an artwork or an object and get a deeper understanding from the voice of the traditional owner that's the custodian of the story for that place or object or artwork'."

Indigital works with traditional owners across Australia to help them share their cultural narratives, their language, and their way of sharing information about how land is managed, through augmented and mixed reality.

The company uses drones, 4D mapping software, image recognition technology, and cultural law to bring cultural sites "alive" through augmented reality.

The app works anywhere without access to the internet.

Working alongside Neville Namarnyilk in Kakadu, a creature by the name of Namande was developed.

See also: The business guide to AR and VR: Everything you need to know

"When you see a Namande on the rock art in Kakadu it's really telling you the way to make sure that you don't camp under falling rocks or it will crush your family," Jade said. "What [Namarnyilk] wanted to do in 90 seconds was reconnect with the younger people in his community and translate that language into the knowledge about what Namande really means."

She said that through the platform, children, for example, are able to interact and learn the story and language, and learn how to paint their body and participate in Namande ceremony, using modern technology mixed with the voice of Namarnyilk as Namande's custodian.

"Working in cutting edge technologies in remote communities seems like a bit of a fairy tale. And then when you add in the -- what I really wanted to do is create economic opportunities for all our peoples in regional or remote Australia as well -- so how do you do that and to do that you have to have a market and to do that you have to a market of people that wants to buy the product," she said.

A series of postcards and T-shirts were sold in visitor centres and online as well, and Indigital has also started working with schools.

"One Aunty said to me something that's always stuck in my head since she said it, 'It takes three or four days to teach our children culture now ... the first time in country and they're all on their phones and they ignore us, and then the second day the phone battery goes flat and they're really cranky, and then the third day when they start getting bored they start listening to us'," she recalled.

Jade said that with the fourth industrial revolution, a lot of remote communities stand to be left not included, so she said Indigital is a way for people to get involved in future economies and to be able to understand digital technologies.

"The best way that we can do that is to make the technology relevant to our culture, to our law, to our language, and to also just draw on the 80,000 years of science experiments that we have the answers to," she said.

Indigital has also partnered with an organisation called Shared Path Aboriginal Corporation and Microsoft, and more recently Telstra to look at a digital skills program.

"I started getting overwhelmed with communities asking me to do their VR for them and I just realised it was totally unsustainable and a better way to do it was to teach other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people how to do this themselves," she said.

"As Aboriginal peoples we're usually the last people to receive cutting edge technologies and I wanted us to be the first this time."

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