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New ‘walkabout’ app brings climate crisis closer to home
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New ‘walkabout’ app brings climate crisis closer to home 

A new app which lets people discover how the climate crisis can be seen all around them – and not just in extreme events faraway – went live this week.

The new smartphone technology has been designed by a team of artists, designers, scientists and artificial intelligence (AI) specialists at the University of Edinburgh, with the aim of helping anyone who finds the enormity of climate change ‘a little too hard to grasp.’

The interactive app, which is being user tested in the lead-up to the Edinburgh Science Festival, encourages people to ‘use their senses’ and rethink how they encounter the changing natural world.

Its creators hope the mindful, meditative experience will bring home how human activity and the earth’s ecosystems are intensely interconnected.

They have created a series of playful prompts that are triggered as users walk around the city. Each prompt invites people to reflect on an element of the natural world, including plants, wildlife and weather.

Listeners are then given facts about how climate change is affecting each of these different elements – making global climate concerns more tangible and locally relevant.

The team working with the University’s Edinburgh Futures Institute, hopes the experience will ‘stimulate curiosity’ about the science behind the information provided.

People testing AWEN – a walk encountering nature – can start their walk anywhere in the city at any time during the Festival.

The creators are seeking feedback from users of the free pilot scheme to shape AWEN’s future development. 

AWEN is a part of a university-led research project called ‘the new real’, which is exploring how digital experiences fuelled by AI can support local climate action. It was backed by the Scottish Funding Council.

Edinburgh Science Festival is working with the City of Edinburgh Council and other relevant authorities to implement appropriate Covid safety measures. These include physical distancing which will be implemented for all outdoor walking events.

Dr Drew Hemment of Edinburgh Futures Institute, who conceived the new real, said: “AWEN is an intimate experience with big ambitions – to connect people to the bigger picture, far away events, a global outlook and also to local action.”

Amanda Tyndall, festival director at Edinburgh Science Festival, added: “This is an opportunity to take part in the ongoing design of a mobile experience that challenges us to think about our local environment and how it relates to the wider world.”

AWEN has been developed by the new real’s international team of collaborators.

The lead artist is Madrid and London-based Inés Cámara Leret, recently artist-in-residence at the Department of Geography at King’s College London. Brendan McCarthy and Sam Healy from Ray Interactive in Edinburgh led the digital design and digital build.

The sound designer is Tom deMajo and the creative producers are Malath Abbas and Susie Buchan – all three are part of Biome Collective in Dundee. The research and science lead is Matjaz Vidmar from the Experiential AI group at Edinburgh Futures Institute.

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