Using augmented reality to revisit the “first contact”

Mairi Gunn, a PhD candidate in the Design Program and at the University of Auckland’s Institute of Bioengineering (ABI) at the University of Auckland, has been awarded the Ria McBride Research Prize at this year’s New Horizons for Women / Hine Kahukura Awards.

The awards were established to support women conducting research that benefits women and girls in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
The doctorate of Mrs. Gunn is overseen by Angus Campbell, new head of the Design Program, co-led by Professor Mark Billinghurst, who runs ABI’s Empathic Computing Lab, and Moana Nepia, who is currently a researcher at James Henare Māori Research. Center. She is also a part-time professional fellow in the design program.

He received the award for his research, common / room, a research on the potential of XR (extended reality) technologies to support and enhance intercultural social engagement, through augmented reality (RA) virtual reality (VR) as well as real world realities. Her research explores ways to reimagine the moment of “first contact” between people from different cultures, including the tāngata whenua and the tauiwi, ​​newcomers.

“In the context of a colonized world, the first encounter dramas echo the years,” he says. “For the Maori, the first contact was and is traumatic.”

Ms. Gunn had more than two decades of experience as director of photography for the New Zealand film and television industry, including documentaries for Maori and conventional television, before enrolling for her doctorate in late 2016.

Through her research, she aims to better understand social interaction and human psychology and use it in combination with new technologies to draw attention and improve Maori / Pakehā relationships in the real world.

He has recently designed and directed the so-called project Hongi Haptic, one of more than 20 New Zealand installations to appear at Ars Electronica 2021, where he worked with researchers from ABI’s Empathic Computing Lab and multimedia artist Tania Remana.

Ars Electronica is the largest media arts festival in the world, an event that originated in Linz (Austria), showcasing installations in the nexus of art, technology and society. Due to pandemic restrictions, the festival went online in 2020 and this year (partly due to travel restrictions), there are 100 “gardens” around the world, a hybrid of facilities real and virtual.
Hongi Haptic will appear in Garden Aotearoa, co-hosted by the University of Auckland and Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, a 3D cyber exhibition that can be accessed from anywhere in the world via computer screens, mobile devices or virtual reality headphones.

Hongi Haptic features a Maori wahine sitting at a table. Visitors see the woman in a pre-recorded volumetric video, sitting in front. (The volumetric video appears in 3D space and can be viewed in 2D on flat screens, as well as with 3D screens and AR Hololens II headphones).

The wahine Māori closes the visitor in a mutual gaze, introduces herself and invites the visitor / spectator to respond.

However, during the response, a computer-generated avatar of the wahine Māori replaces the volumetric version of the video. Can visitors differentiate between the two versions and, if so, which version feels or is experienced as the most real in the virtual world?

The volumetric wah Māori again replaces the avatar and invites the visitor to join her in a mushroom. If the exhibition had been able to go ahead as originally planned in the “real world” (at the University of Victoria, Wellington), viewers could literally feel the pressure of the fungi through haptic feedback. ABI bioengineers developed actuators installed in the AR headset that visitors could carry (into the real world of pre-lock). This would create the experience of touch through vibration.
The actual version of the wahine Māori is multimedia and performance artist Tania Remana.

“I wish people who haven’t met Tania had a sense of connection so that they could be less inclined to objectify or stereotype Maori in the future,” Ms. Gunn. He hopes that even in the virtual world, his work can help build better connections and understanding between people in the real world.

While Hongi Haptic it is an exploration of the potential of technology, according to her, “technology is a tool I want to work with, but it is only a tool. It is not a final destination. I just want to find ways to connect people. “

Other team members behind
Hongi Haptic they are Prasanth Sasikumar, Huidong Bai, Sachith Muthukumarana (ABI) and artist / designer Wendy Lawn (TechnomancyXR, UK).
The cyber exhibition Garden Aotearoa will be held on September 8 and 12 and all online events are free, although some aspects of the Ars Electronica festival originating in other countries carry modest charges. A full program of New Zealand events is available at

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