söndag 26 april 2020

Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality (application)

Your laptop uses as much energy as a fox. For more information, see this blog post.

Once per year KTH's Sustainability Office award money for small (maximum 100 000 SEK, maximum 1 year) interdisciplinary projects, "Environment and sustainability without boundaries". Last time I handed in an application was two years ago for the project "Homo Colossus In Real Life (HC-IRL)". The application was granted (with a 6-month delay), but we started to work with the project during 2019 and it has since expanded into a research project and an exhibit at the upcoming World Expo.

This week we handed in a new application, "Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality". The main applicant is Anna Björklund who is an associate professor at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, Dept of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering. Anna is also an expert on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The co-applicants are me and Mario Romero (Associate professor in Human-Computer Interaction with focus on Interactive Computer Graphics and Visualization at the Division of Computational Science and Technology. Anna and me developed and wrote up the application but we invited Mario to join as we thought his competence would come in handy in the project.

While I have nominally worked with Anna before (we are co-authors of a paper with five authors), it was most my colleague Elina Eriksson and me who did the majority of the work:
- Eriksson, E., Pargman, D., Björklund, A., Kramers, A., & Edvardsson Björnberg, K. (2016). Sustainable development for ICT engineering students:“What’s in it for me”?. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD'16).

That paper builds on experiences of teaching sustainability to engineering student in three different programmes and both Anna and me are still responsible for the same two courses as when we wrote that paper.

I have lately talked with Anna about LCA in relationship to the Homo Colossus project and this resulted in a shared application for funds and here is the application:

Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality 

Project description:
This application will catalyze a multidisciplinary and explorative research collaboration between researchers as well as students from two disparate research fields at KTH - Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Interactive Media Technology. The three applicants have not previously worked together and we believe the application combines research that has not previously been combined in new and innovative ways.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to support decision making in industry, by authorities and to provide consumers with information on product’s environmental performance. While LCA is a powerful tool for developing comprehensive environmental assessment of products and services, results are often complex and difficult to interpret. Improving the communication of LCA results has been the topic of several studies (Cerdas et al. 2017, Sala & Andreasson 2018, Røyne et al. 2019), but these efforts mainly target expert users rather than the general public. There is thus a lack of research on how to convey LCA results in an understandable and meaningful way to non-experts, thereby limiting the potential of LCA to influence and change people’s behavior in a more sustainable direction. 

One example of how LCA is communicated to consumers is to present a numerical value that represents the carbon footprint of a product. The hope is that consumers will make more informed choices, but there is little proof that people in general act on this information. We instead plan to explore more direct and emotional ways of communicating LCA results that relate to the audience on a personal level. We will more specifically explore new ways to communicate LCA results that move beyond traditional 2D representation of LCA results (through bars and charts) and instead use Augmented Reality (AR).

One innovative way to communicate such information, leaving behind the traditional ambition of numerical precision and transparency in LCA, is to instead focus on making results relatable, interesting and emotionally engaging. In this project we plan to use LCA to calculate the energy footprint of gadgets (or devices or services) and then use AR to visualize this footprint using Kleiber’s law (Kleiber 1947) to calculate the mass of an animal that needs the same amount of energy to maintain its bodily functions, e.g.:

  • The average modern energy-efficient washing machine in Sweden uses 1 kWh for a wash cycle and is used on average every second day. 
  • This energy use (0.5 kWh/day) is equivalent to the energy content of the food that an animal that weighs 12 kilos (for example a medium-sized dog) needs to eat each day.
  • Every gadget or service (for example a plane trip) could similarly be “translated” and mapped into an animal of a suitable size. A laptop computer is for example “equivalent” to a fox (see image below)

Future work could involve letting the user “visit” sites in the production chain where energy is consumed or greenhouse gases released, or explore how the size of one’s carbon footprint is affected by choice of diet.

This is a pilot project. The applicants will 1) shape an attractive project proposal for using AR to visualize LCA results and 2) recruit students who will work with this proposal in a project course (DM2799) at the EECS school with 3) support from an LCA research assistant from the ABE school. While the direct output of this project will be a demo that is developed in a project course, the indirect outputs will be a deepened understanding of whether and how AR can be used to explore new formats of presenting LCA data for new audiences (e.g. the general public). If successful, we will use our existing networks to:

  1. Bring the results into our teaching. Applicants Björklund and Pargman are responsible for sustainability courses that are given to engineering students in the ICT programme (AG1815) and the Media Technology programme (DM2573). Applicant Romero teaches courses in Information Visualization (DH2321) and Advanced Graphics and Interaction (DH2413).
  2. Present the results at Tekniska Museet and/or the exhibition space Färgfabriken.
  3. Apply for research grants to fund further research into the area

The project is synchronised with and will benefit from activities that are funded by other sources:

At EECS, co-applicants Pargman and Romero will act as clients and supervisors for a group of second year master’s students working with Augmented Reality (AR) in DM2799 Advanced project course in Interactive Media Technology, a course where students work with research problems posed by researchers at the department of Media Technology and Interaction Design. Pargman and Romero have previously worked together and supervised students in this course as well as elsewhere.

At SEED, a research assistant working together with applicant Björklund on integrating a life cycle perspective in film production will act as the primary contact concerning LCA data and modelling and will support the DM2799 project group throughout the process (October - January).

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