Using AR to fuse imagination and technology, with Tom Doust

10 min read
Blog Author

Using AR to fuse imagination and technology, with Tom Doust

Blog Author
10 min read
Join Caspar and Tom Doust, Head of Experience and Learning at the Institute of Imagination as they unpack how people can use XR to level up their imagination.

This week, Zappar CEO and Co-Founder, Caspar Thykier, is joined by Tom Doust, the Head of Experience and Learning at the Institute of Imagination. Headquartered in London, the Institute of Imagination is a charity that helps people express themselves through creativity, including using technology to spark their imagination.

In this session, they cover: 

  1. How people can use XR to level up their imagination 
  2. Keeping kids’ imaginations alive through COVID 
  3. How AR can be made accessible to all 
  4. Bringing XR to the mass market, and the digital tools of the future


The Conversation:



How people can use XR to level up their imagination

Tom begins the interview by explaining why he started working for the Institute of Imagination and giving some background to the organisation’s mission. He addresses the importance of recognising imagination as an important skill rather than a frivolity. 

“We don’t fully utilize our imagination fully on a day-to-day level,” he notes, “it’s our job to really champion the power of imagination and to see ways in which we can apply that imagination through creativity.”

When asked about the intersection between creativity and technology, Tom reflects on the use of XR as a new and powerful means of bridging that gap and “expanding and extending” our imagination. 

“The traditional approach to imagination would be that we’d be sitting down with a book, and then we’d be imagining that world that the author is telling us to. But with XR, it suddenly opens up a whole new world to actually immerse people in.” 

“We get really receptive, exciting responses when we design programs around XR,” he adds, “I think what’s interesting is that it’s very accessible, but we’re still finding that it’s quite new to people. It’s almost like they need to take a leap of faith forward to understand that it’s really valuable.”

Keeping kids’ imaginations alive through COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic saw thousands of children unable to go to the classroom or engage in imaginative and creative activities as they might have done before. Tom describes replacing these opportunities for creativity with virtual ones so that they don’t lose out on practising their imagination. 

“People have still needed those engaging programs and those creative opportunities. One of the things we set up in the last 12 months was [to give] people access to these tools in their homes.” 

Tom goes on to describe a ‘digital lending library’ that the organization set up during COVID to allow children, particularly those in underprivileged communities, to bring digital devices into their homes. He notes that although smartphone penetration is at “nearly 90%”, children were still able to go and collect devices from their local schools or libraries to bring the digital content of the library into their homes. 

“In the last 12 months, in particular, we’ve taken some big leaps forward in technology and in access. The digital inclusion debate is very much alive, and people are seeing that they can gain access to devices more and more, either through schemes like ours or through lots of other initiatives.”

How AR can be made accessible to all 

The Institute of Imagination has been using XR in their programs for about six years, Tom confirms. He describes the first usage as being a kind of ‘party trick’ that involved using a cardboard VR headset and loading up Google Maps so that people could view the world in virtual reality. “That still works amazingly today,” he adds, before mentioning that the ZapBox headset is a part of the previously mentioned digital lending library that the charity runs.

Caspar comments on the fact that the Google Cardboard, despite being relatively old technology now, still elicits the same sort of response today as it did when it first materialized. 

“Some of the very simple experiences, which might just be someone pointing their phone at a poster and it coming to life, there are many people who haven’t seen that. It still sparks that sense of magic and wonder. Now the question is, how do we put those tools into the hands of more people to make them themselves?”

Bringing XR to the mass market, and the digital tools of the future

Tom describes the world of AR and VR as being on the “cusp of mainstream”. He points to the uptake of XR amongst some of the world’s biggest companies, like Apple, as being a good indicator of this fact. “Mass adoption is around the corner,” he says. 
So what does mass adoption of these technologies mean for organizations with missions like the Institute of Imagination? 

“The opportunity to use these digital tools to amplify one’s imagination is really exciting for us. We can talk about it conceptually as this kind of ‘superpower’, but what happens when you start to merge and fuse that together with these tools that actually a) take you into these worlds, and b) help you design and develop these worlds really easily? You can really do some fantastic things with some of the applications and tools now, so we’re excited about this prospect of what these tools can offer for us”.