Augmented Reality applications have been emerging in a variety of areas. As the hype around AR continues to become more widespread and grows in popularity, it not only opens the doors for exciting design opportunities but also a serious list of usability concerns. Aside from the cybersecurity or privacy issues, public safety is one of the biggest concerns for AR applications. Whether its driving accidents, distracted pedestrians or dangerous trespassing, designing for Augmented Reality brings many public safety questions to the table.
The virtual space vs private property
Digital mapping applications that use augmented reality have powerful public benefits but can also bring about questions of private ownership. Google’s Waze Navigation & Live Traffic application alerts the user about traffic, police, and hazards. It gives the user alternative routes depending on the rush hours of the day. Residents of quiet neighborhoods complain about not able to move their cars off the driveway because of the high traffic and air pollution on their narrower streets due to the alternatives routes provided.
Personal space, virtual harassment
Virtual & Augmented Reality will change our space and our interactions with others. That said, the distracting tendency of AR should be considered for future app developments. The interface should take into account the surrounding environment and respect other people’s spaces. Imagine walking on a crowded road and someone is navigating with an AR app and is bumping into you because they are too distracted with the interaction on their screen. How can we avoid a stranger that wants to include you into their AR experience without your permission? The widespread use of these apps in public spaces might challenge our right to be recorded without permission. Our privacy rights can intersect with someone’s right to access public information. Therefore, it would be an even harder case to prove the possible harassment.
Injuries and death caused by AR
Of course I can’t write about AR safety without mentioning the Pokemon Go craze from 2016. The game appealed to a wide range of demographics. For the U.S., SurveyMonkey Intelligence found that the average user’s age ranged from 13-50+. The game encouraged players from across the world to explore the outdoors while capturing Pokemon through their smartphones. It wasn’t all fun and games though, as the popular game resulted in traffic accidents, personal injuries and even deaths.
So what are the ingredients of public safety with AR?
Create short but impactful interactions
Designers should understand the space in which the experience should happen. They should consider the possible scenarios the user may face. Every interaction on the screen should enrich the real life experience.
Here are some of my suggested questions for analyzing physical spaces:
Am I being clearly led from Point A to Point B?
This question is important for location apps in the minimizing of accidents.
Is this setting usually a quiet environment or is it an open space where things are happening?
If you are designing an experience for a quiet place like a library or office, it’s important to consider other non-users. Using headsets for voice interactions is a good way to keep things personal. The camera overlays should be placed away from the seating areas as it can distract others.
What is the average pace of the user? – Are they going to have a set location or have the ability to move from one space to another?
If the user is going to be constantly moving, it can be hard to oversee accidents or unexpected situations.
Is this a place where the user can encounter underage children?
Non users’s security and right to privacy should be taken into account while designing with camera or recording features. This is especially important for underage children. A camera app could have a security lock for offensive or pornographic filters for non users. It only activates when the non user gives permission through voice or gesture.