From augmented reality to augmented sociality

Study level


Vacation research experience scheme

Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Dr Ross Brown
Senior Lecturer
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty
Dr Alessandro Soro
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty


Augmented reality is emerging as a promising visualisation/interaction technique for a range of applications. There are many examples in the literature, from education to entertainment, to supporting professional practice in almost any scenario. Commercial devices are also hitting the market, with first specialised applications to niche markets, such as drone piloting, cycling, and fitness.

Most projects take a technology driven perspective to try to explore new uses and possibilities for AR displays. The interaction paradigms explored, however, have been rather traditionally inspired to single user, non-collaborative settings and tasks. In fact, shared augmented reality is a way less explored scenario, and hides a number of potential complications.

Human social interaction is largely predicated on a shared understanding of reality. Although our perception and appraisal of a situation depends on internal factors, such as mood, previous experience, own skills, there is in general a belief that the ‘reality’ we perceive is, by and large, the same for all participants in a certain social interaction. For example our ability to learn from each other is predicated on developing basic skills such as joint attention, which in turn depend on social and emotional skills, such as decoding verbal and non-verbal cues, and on a belief that whatever it is we want to point someone’s  attention to, it exists for them as well.

Augmented Reality’s goal, however, is to create a virtual informational and interaction layer on top of the existing perception that, in general, is conceived as personal, not shared among users, and therefore potentially different for everyone involved in interaction in the real world. In some ways, we are creating a technologically induced hallucination, making users see things and hear voices that aren’t really there. When such a phenomenon (or symptom) occurs naturally it is generally not a good sign, but as long as we can switch it on/off at will, it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it is clear that in order to fully understand Augmented Reality there is a need to understand if (or in what degree) breaking or manipulating the social contract of a shared reality can affect (positively or negatively) our ability to function socially.

Research activities

This project will take a ‘research through design’ approach to prototype and test a series of AR scenarios that challenge the social skills and beliefs of users. We will select a number of potential situations (e.g. hiking in a park or on a bush walk, classroom activities, medical learning and developing empathy and understanding for mental health conditions) for which AR applications have been proposed, and will try to explore the possible outcomes of inconsistent or conflicting augmentations on users.


Based on the findings we will distil a concept of ‘augmented sociality’ to inform future design shared augmented reality for social applications.

Skills and experience

The project will benefit a range of skills, from UX design to mobile programming. Students with a background in HCI and qualitative research methods will have a head start. If you the project has captured your interest, but you are not sure if your skills match what is needed, come and talk to us.


You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round



Contact the supervisor for more information.