23 Jun 2023 | Sam Sprigg
Meet the Winners of AWE's XR Prize Challenge: Fight Climate Change

AWE’s XR Prize Challenge: Fight Climate Change (“the XR Prize”) was first announced just over a year ago at AWE USA 2022. The competition was set up to encourage creators, developers and companies to harness the power of augmented and virtual reality technology in order to help humanity in its fight against climate change. 

Almost exactly one year to the day after the competition was first announced, the 11 XR Prize finalists took to the stage at AWE USA 2023 to showcase their XR solutions and contend for a $100,000 grand prize. The event brought together visionaries and innovators from around the world, who demonstrated how augmented, virtual, and mixed reality can be used to make a significant impact in the fight against one of humanity's greatest challenges.

"In addition to establishing that XR can be an effective weapon in our fight against climate change, one of the most significant outcomes from this entire effort was that we successfully fostered a true sense of community among the competitors, finalists, coaches, and judges," said Dace Campbell, XR Prize Competition Manager and AWE XR for Good Program Director. "New relationships, ideas, and collaborations have started to germinate, leveraging people’s passion and interests at a niche intersection between XR and climate change and growing that into something meaningful."

Judges and Presentations

The judging panel for the XR Prize comprised esteemed XR and climate change experts and thought leaders, and spanned the generations with judges’ ages ranging from 18 to 80 years old. With stakeholders from every generation playing a role in choosing the winner, judges collectively offered their wisdom from decades of using AR and VR technology, as well as their passion for a future in which humanity is able to solve the problem of climate change.

Each finalist had just 15 minutes to impress the judges, who asked questions to further explore every solution from each team and work to establish the top contenders. Among all of the exceptional XR Prize finalists, four projects stood out for their remarkable efforts:

  • Between Two Worlds
  • InCitu
  • Mangrove City
  • Qikiqtaruk

Each of these projects showcased unique strengths and innovative utilizations of XR technology that earned one of them the grand prize, and three others some well-deserved recognition and praise during the Auggie Awards ceremony that took place at AWE USA this month.

Grand Prize: Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds was selected by the XR Prize’s panel of expert judges as the overall winner and recipient of the $100,000 grand prize. Ed Harrisson of Under the Skin captivated the judges and audience with his team’s augmented reality app. The app, which was developed in collaboration with Virualosis, allowed various artworks of endangered animals to be scanned in order to transport viewers into immersive experiences that vividly revealed the threats facing these creatures and their habitats. The powerful storytelling approach captivated hearts and minds, fostering a deep understanding of the urgency to protect wildlife and their environments.

Chief Scientist at The Hydrous and XR Prize judge Erika Woolsey, said: “Between Two Worlds demonstrates a beautiful and thoughtful use of interactive AR that links physical artwork to real world impact. It is elegant in its simplicity and has the potential to scale and accelerate learning, donating, and acting towards the protection of biodiverse habitats worldwide: a powerful natural defense against climate change.”

Best Optimizing Design & Execution of Climate Solutions: InCitu

Recognized as the Best in Category for Optimizing Design & Execution of Climate Solutions, InCitu breathed life into future cities through augmented reality. By enabling collaboration around urban change, the project helps to empower communities to actively participate in shaping their environments. With its ability to visualize potential scenarios and engage citizens in decision-making, InCitu exemplified the transformative potential of XR technology.

Commenting on InCitu’s platform, Bob Fine, Executive Director, IVRHA, said: “A brilliantly developed platform that is positioned to take off and have a significant impact on how city planning is considered for the future.”

Best Educating About Solutions to Climate Change: Mangrove City

Selected as the best submission in the Educating About Solutions to Climate Change category, Mangrove City, an immersive and educational VR experience, introduced middle school students to the critical role of mangrove forests in combating climate change. Marina Psaros, Head of Sustainability at Unity added that the experience could even help to educate those in higher education and beyond, stating: “This has the potential to be a transformative project for University of Miami students and faculty, middle school Floridians, and local community planning agencies.”

By immersing students in the delicate ecosystems and demonstrating the impact of mangroves on coastal communities, the project fostered a profound appreciation for nature's resilience and our collective responsibility to protect it.

Best Visualizing the Causes & Impacts of Climate Change: Qikiqtaruk

Qikiqtaruk, an awe-inspiring VR experience, transported users to the forefront of climate change in the Arctic. Qikiqtaruk, by Aarhus University, University of Edinburgh, and Produced in collaboration with IVAR Studios, was voted by the judges as the best in the Visualizing The Causes & Impacts of Climate Change category. The experience saw participants guided by an Arctic scientist and an Inuvialuit park ranger, where they witnessed firsthand the tundra thawing beneath their feet. This immersive journey conveyed the urgency of climate action and the interconnectedness of all living beings on Earth.

Sarah Syed, the youngest judge on the panel, and founder of You Are the Change, said: “I am used to seeing before and after photos of our Arctic and documentaries visually describing the changes because of our warming planet, but Qikiqtaruk takes this to the next level. By allowing users to experience the heritage, indigenous knowledge, and land prior to the permafrost melting, and the current island after withstanding the detrimental impacts climate change has, this immersive experience will bridge the gap between empathy into action for all who use it.”

Closing things off at the end of the day’s presentations, Founder & Chairman of the Virtual World Society, and the grandfather of VR himself, Tom Furness, addressed the audience:

“I want to give everybody, all of the contestants a perfect score, because I know what’s underneath all that work, and the passion that it takes to do something, but especially realizing a problem and that we have these tools that can help with that.

“One of the things we have with this new technology is an incredible power that actually awakens our spatial memory and helps us to do things that we’ve never been able to do before, and unlock something that is inside of us. I want to thank all of the contestants, and thank AWE for inviting me to participate with these amazing judges, and for all of you who came and participated.”

XR Prize Global Impact

Some insightful metrics that emphasize the far-reaching influence of the competition and highlighted the overall impact of the XR Prize, include:

Additionally, finalists noted the measured and projected impact of their solutions, and that overall the impact was most meaningful in terms of carbon and waste reduced, people reached and engaged, and natural habitat preserved and restored.

Celebrating Innovation, Encouraging Action

The XR Prize Challenge demonstrated AWE’s unwavering commitment to combating climate change. As an organization, AWE actively seeks to reduce its environmental footprint and has ensured that all of our events from AWE USA 2023 onwards are carbon-neutral through verified offsets with Terrapass, a third-party vendor. By attending AWE events and by participating in our vibrant community, you too can contribute to the ongoing conversation and collective efforts to create a more sustainable world.

"This overwhelming response demonstrates both the strength of this passionate community and also the urgency of the climate change problem facing us collectively as a species," said Ori Inbar, Co-founder of AWE. "Our goal with this significant cash prize is to inspire XR developers, academics and companies alike to focus their talents towards humanity's number one existential threat: climate change. To have 150 teams participating at this level is a victory by itself - let a thousand flowers bloom!"

You can watch the entire day’s presentations from all finalists below, or click on the links below the video to jump to the specific talks from each of the XR Prize winners.

Between Two Worlds  |  InCitu  |  Mangrove City  |  Qikiqtaruk 

All of the finalists at this year’s event demonstrated the transformative potential that augmented and virtual reality technology has in addressing the climate crisis facing humanity. The response that this competition received from the XR community was truly inspiring, and has put a spotlight on XR technology as a viable tool for fighting climate change. The opportunity goes both ways too, in that AR and VR solutions providers can gear the technology towards solving the climate chal

lenge, and companies already operating within the climate industry can see the potential of these solutions, and begin to implement them into their ongoing efforts to fight climate change.

As highlighted by Tom Furness in his closing remarks: “The world is going to survive because of all these folks.”

Stay tuned for more information from AWE on the XR Prize Challenge: Fight Climate Change in the coming weeks and months.

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