Augmented Reality for Heritage Conservation

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology which allows for engaging and immersive experiences by projecting computer-generated graphics onto real-world surroundings. Some of the most popular and classic examples of AR are Pokemon Go, Google Lens, Sephora AR, Instagram and Snapchat filters.

As per Statista, there are some 1.7 billion mobile AR users worldwide. Other statistics suggest that with the market size standing at approximately 9.53 billion USD in 2021, it is expected to bounce to 13 billion USD by the end of 2023 and almost double by 2025, capping at 26 billion USD.

What does it take to build an Augmented Reality app, and how much does it cost?

The skillset required by AR developers includes computer vision skills and an excellent grasp of 3D modelling, including construction, texturing shading, and rendering. They will also need knowledge of various programming languages.

Factors which affect app development costs include features, hours, cost of human resources, complexity, tools, third-party integrations and database services.

Research suggests that developing a basic AR application takes $7000-$10,000 in the USA, with the primary cost being that of human resources. In Pakistan, an AR solution can be developed at one-sixth of the cost, so approximately $4200-$6000 for a basic AR application.

Using Augmented Reality for heritage conservation

The nature of the technology allows it to be a perfect fit for museums, allowing remarkable exhibits, bringing artworks to life, increasing audio or visual ambience, reconstructing artefacts or even entire buildings, increasing educational experiences for tourists, or even for virtual museum tours.

Within heritage conservation, there are three things, in particular, which AR applications can be used for: translation and interpretation of signage, design modelling and architecture, and education, for on-site tours as well as improving off-site accessibility.

How can Pakistan use Augmented Reality?

Pakistan can not only develop low-cost AR solutions for its museums but also outsource development for other developing countries that have dedicated their focus towards harnessing the economic potential of tourism, thereby making use of the heritage-tech sector for diplomacy, as well as trade.

Potential country partners can include Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt. Potential collaborators can also include universities, museums, art and culture institutes, and INGOs to open up space for new avenues in archaeological conservation.

Pakistan can look towards developing its very own Pixel+, an initiative led by The Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels, and by KU Leuven. It has enabled 3D depth images to be reconstructed to study and preserve heritage materials.

The Bridge Trails App can be adapted for tours in Androon Lahore and Heritage Trail Peshawar. Simple Marker AR applications can also be developed to enhance visitor experiences at Taxilla, for stupas on the outskirts of Peshawar and at various forts taking inspiration from the app in use at Fort William Henry to take visitors back in time.

This is not to say that the adoption of emerging technology will be without its challenges. However, with the opportunities outweighing the costs, all in all, Pakistan can and must explore emerging technology including AR to conserve heritage.