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US Ignite Selects Three Cities for Augmented Reality Challenge

Three augmented reality projects have been awarded $20,000 each by US Ignite to develop projects that use AR technology to address city concerns like transportation, education or health care.

a digital drawing of a smartphone displaying information over a cityscape
Understanding the deep and layered history of a certain area, broadening an understanding of transit, or growing economic development are all open to exploration through augmented reality technology in the modern city. 

The Southern California city of Long Beach, for example, aims to use AR to create “immersive” exhibits in its historic downtown, while developers in Philadelphia want to use augmented reality to make transportation options more comfortable and welcoming for riders with diverse needs. These are some of the areas several cities — and their partners — will explore using augmented reality technology. The cities were selected as part of the Augmented Reality Developer Challenge organized by US Ignite and Facebook Reality Labs. 

In Long Beach, the city will set aside an area of downtown to serve as a testbed for AR creators, said Ryan Kurtzman, smart cities program manager in Long Beach. 

“For example, there may be a team that thinks that a community is stronger when it has a sense of its history, so their vision of education is to take images of historic Long Beach buildings and superimpose them on top of the modern day locations,” Kurtzman explained. “Or they may want to do an audio tour where each stop uses image recognition to unlock the next audio file.” 

US Ignite selected three locations across the country for the AR Developer Challenge: Long Beach, Philadelphia and the Raleigh/Cary region of North Carolina. Each of the three will receive $20,000 with the expectation that they will match that amount with in-kind services, said Mari Silbey, director of partnerships and outreach for US Ignite. 

“Generally speaking, the candidates were supposed to define a challenge they wanted to solve, demonstrate the ability to engage local developers and describe a proposed process for conducting the challenge in the timeframe given,” said Silbey. 

Proposals for the challenge were evaluated against a range of considerations such as the project’s ability to attract additional funding, or whether the project addresses a community concern like workforce development, education or health care. 

The initiative in North Carolina is imploring entrepreneurs and other developers to develop AR tools focusing on areas like workforce development, accessibility and inclusion or economic development.

“The Long Beach AR Challenge is a fun, unique, equitable and scalable method of engaging the local technology community as well as community members,” said Kurtzman, adding that it’s structured to hone the city’s own smart city efforts.  

“It also aligns with the city’s Blueprint for Economic Development, which advocates for workforce development and emerging tech industry clusters,” Kurtzman added. 

The city and its partners with California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) will provide mentoring and technical assistance. 

“Our goal is for AR developers of all skill levels to participate, build their expertise, and receive feedback from the local user community,” said Kurtzman.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.