Georgia Tech Graduate Student’s Augmented Reality App Plays Starring Role in DramaTech’s ‘Safety Show’

By Michael Pearson

If you attended the recent run of the DramaTech performance, The Safety Show, you likely encountered the show’s custom app, which allowed audience members to view augmented reality versions of performers and scenery in the show.

The app, like the entire performance, was pure Georgia Tech, and pure Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts — a place where technology and the humanities often connect. Joshua A.Fisher, a Ph.D. student in the college’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication, developed the software in collaboration with the DramaTech team preparing the show.

“In addition to providing a visual cue for the show, the app also is a comment on technology and the perceived feeling of safety that surrounds it,” said DramaTech artistic director Melissa Foulger, who is also an academic professional in LMC.

“We intentionally started the show with a high amount of technology and had it taper off because we found that most people feel the most safe with other people, or when they feel a sense of community. We wanted to emulate that feeling as we moved through the performance,” she said.

Collaboration Began With Dissertation

Fisher began working with Foulger for his dissertation, which involves researching how community storytelling workshops can utilize emerging media for social action. That led to his involvement in the I Feel Safe When public arts project.

“That initiative involved collecting anonymous statements from students about moments when they felt safe. Given all of the events that have happened on campus and in the world over the last few years, exploring what it means to feel safe seemed necessary,” Fisher said.

Those anonymous statements form the backbone of the script for The Safety Show, which concluded its run February 23, 2019.

Fisher had about a month to develop the app in Unity, using Apple’s ARKit, Photon Unity Networking, and Placenote for the augmented reality components. Instead of a typical augmented reality app, in which each viewer receives a unique view of a space based on their perspective, Fisher’s app presented audience members a single shared AR scene.

‘The Symbiotic Relationship of Art and Technology’

“Our goal for the performance was to reconnect the audience with one another and to the Georgia Tech community,” Fisher said.

The project demonstrates the value of studying the humanities at a world-class technological university like Georgia Tech, Fisher said.

“This campus provides a wealth of opportunities to put theory into practice,” he said. “LMC understands the symbiotic relationship of art and technology. There’s an emphasis on how the two fields serve one another to construct beautiful, compelling, and human experiences. There are so many opportunities, from 360-degree filmmaking to game design, for students to explore.”

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