We should build something really useful with AR

Some thoughts about AR applications and their real impact on user needs.

Nicolò Carpignoli
Chialab Open Source


A forest that looks way more sharp using eyeglasses lenses.

Disclaimer: This article has been on my mind for months. Nowadays, with the current COVID19 pandemic, this thoughts seem to be written on purpose. I’d like to state that this is a more, general thinking. But it makes even more sense now, of course. The technology community has answered to this crisis, a lot of websites for search/offer of help have raised. If you want to contribute with your skills, there are an enormous amount of projects that will help people on this crisis, for real. If you’re a tech person, a designer, or simply want to contribute in some way, there’s a lot to choose. I found a single Tweet that collects several websites and projects boards. (click on it to explore the Thread)

Or found here some references:





I am a WebXR Developer. I’m working every day with AR technologies, maintaining several projects, trying to stay always updated about market news, and the community feedback about AR.

Every day, I look at my Twitter timeline and I found tons of Tweets about AR. Trends are always the same:

  • there is a great hype for AR technology enhancements
  • there is a great number of AR showcases, every day, about using latest technology features
  • there is a poor number of useful projects, at least, among those trending.

I’m aware of this from months, maybe years. And I’m starting to see a problem with that.

AR is great to build applications for the Education field, Medical field, culture, even engaging Art. I could agree that there are indeed socially useful projects made with AR technologies, but it’s undeniable that they are not so fancy and trending. The most ‘twitted’ and discussed posts, are about catchy, funny and most of the time, useless projects.

What I mean with a strong term like ‘useless’? I don’t mean that we should stop creating funny and catchy AR showcases. It’s great to have fun — most of all, in these sad days. What I mean is that there are too few useful projects in respect of useless ones.

Is this true only for AR?

I honestly don’t know, it’s clear to me that the most the technology is catchy and attractive, the most I see projects created just to get the user ‘wow effect’.

Talking about me, from now on, I will personally start to concentrate more on applications rather than on technology. AR technology, also Web AR, are making great progress, and we can already create great, useful projects with the technology we have today.

So, how can we start to create something that really helps people, using AR?

An Augmented Reality book used to show sign language.
An Augmented Reality book used to show sign language.

AR for people: some examples

I first want to show you some examples I found on the Web. Each of them is using AR to help people. To solve their needs, in some way.

I do not own any right on the works above. I thank the authors and I hope they don’t mind if I cited their works (publicly available, of course).

I collected these examples that I loved. They are only few, of course, there’s more out there. What can we learn from them?

Start from user needs

This is the first and maybe the only important thing to remember here.

We have to start from user needs. We can build a socially useful project only if we start from people.

We have to explore the Web, socials, communities, even Twitter or other networks. We have to talk with people. It does not matter to make this actively, sometimes some user needs just pop out from the web page we are visiting. Some users ask for a feature, or it’s complaining about something. If we are in an ‘helping mindset’, and we feel more empathetic, our brain will start to elaborate those needs — and when a developer elaborates a feature, it is already thinking for a solution.

Teach Maths to children in a more engaging way with AR.
Teaching Maths to children in a more engaging way with AR. After the quiz, an AR animation with sound is triggered, as a reward in case of success or to explain to the children.

Those needs can become a clear feature that is missing on a project, or a new, standalone project. Sometimes these features are very easy to build — if you’re an AR developer, I mean. The hard part is to start, and to build something that is helping, for real.

Practically speaking, we can

  • explore feeds, Twitter, forums, social networks, and look for feature requests/user needs
  • interview users who are showing interest in AR applications
  • interact with them to build something
  • build something
  • ask them to test, users are generally very incline to test something they will use/look for.

If you’re a developer or a user, or both, and you have something in mind, please share here as a comment. It can be a feature missing on some technology, a user need, a problem for which you do not have a solution. I’d love to read it.

Also, if you have some thoughts to share, you agree or do not agree at all on this article, I’d love also to discuss it with you.

Chialab is a design studio. We create relations between things and people, handling the strategy, planning, software and contents.