Getting People Outdoors with Augmented Reality

How augmented reality can inspire outdoor experiences: The visionary Mel Langlotz

German-born Mel Langlotz is founder of Geo AR Games, a business leading the charge in geospatial augmented reality (AR) gaming. This is an exciting concept that combines the great outdoors with mobile devices – allowing people to view architectural wonders, play captivating motion games, and travel through the solar system and beyond, using a smart phone or tablet.

In her adopted home of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Mel is making a name for her ability to excite, inspire and connect people.

A stroll in Magical Park

Mel’s journey into tech leadership began when she was applying for a postgraduate diploma in entrepreneurship. She was asked to define a problem and find a solution for it – and she immediately knew what she wanted to work on.

At the time, my stepdaughter was seven, and I was thinking, how do you get a child who is addicted to digital games to enjoy the fresh air and explore the outside world?

This led to a concept that she named Magical Park – an AR application enabling children to access games that their phones and tablets unlock when they are in their local park.

Next, she needed to turn the dream into something tangible to sell.

“I joined an infrastructure company that used AR to map utilities and assets underground. This gave me an understanding of what was possible with the technology available at the time,” says Mel.

In 2015, Mel and Geo AR Games co-founder Amie Wolken launched Magical Park, an augmented reality game that turns an urban city park into a digital fantasy land.

Mel Langlotz with a pukeko on her shoulder
Mel Langlotz, Geo AR Games

“Initially we hoped cities would pay a three-month subscription to Magical Park, but we soon discovered this wasn’t the case,” says Mel. The Geo AR team then took a more tailored approach and began developing products on demand for governments and cities. They found many were facing the same challenge of trying to provide environmental education to low socio-economic communities, and this was a problem they could help them solve. 

“For example, the city of Canning, in Western Australia, was looking to communicate the importance of water quality in its Wharf Street wetlands. Geo AR Games worked with the council team to develop augmented reality frames – physical photo frames installed around the walkways that when looked at with a phone app, activate games or interactive dashboards to tell stories about the area.”

The augmented reality frames were a great success, and local schools embraced the opportunities to visit Wharf Street Basin and teach the children about water quality. Mel says it soon became apparent that water quality education was an issue many cities face and she saw an opportunity to share geospatial AR tools more broadly. 

“That’s when we developed the ‘pay it forward’ approach. If a city engaged with Geo AR Games to build a model, it would share ownership, enabling collaboration with other cities, which reduced the development cost.”

South Australia’s government agency then picked up the work from Canning, developing its own version named Explore Water for the Happy Valley Reservoir Reserve. This teaches the community how the weather affects the Adelaide water supply and how drinking water is treated. 

Turning crisis into opportunity

Co-founder Amie left Geo AR Games in 2017, and Mel was facing the fact that Magical Park hadn’t grown as much as they’d hoped; nonetheless, it had opened doors to other exciting opportunities.

Mel worked for many years with organisations such as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Earthquake Commission (EQC) and gained a high level of trust with government organisations.  

“While I was developing an emergency management game called What’s the Plan Stan, the team and I rapidly responded to the New Zealand–wide COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. We created an entire pandemic section for the game in five days,” she says. 

“One of our challenges was that the success of these games relies on marketing an invisible playground and this technology is very new. So, we developed a marketing toolkit to provide advice and collateral. I also discovered the most powerful tool was hosting an event to familiarise people with the app. It made sense that a tool to get children outdoors requires marketers to be outdoors to sell it,” Mel says.

“We invited communities to local parks, and soon even those who found technology challenging became comfortable with the games. It was the perfect solution, and a valuable tool to combat loneliness and boredom during the pandemic.”

Access for everyone

Mel is passionate about accessibility, developing games that can be played by the blind, games that teach financial security to the neurodiverse, and games that enable education for those who have physical limitations – such as a maths game for children with cerebral palsy that adapts to an individual’s needs.

With her tenacity and confidence driving her forward, Mel is always looking for ways to embrace new technology. She’s currently hiring graduates to implement AI in her games, which is a step into a new frontier. Her vision extends beyond her own applications: she’s also looking at how cities can better cooperate in the digital world. 

“There is a lot to gain from sharing resources and working together. For example, if Australia is looking at how to boost Indigenous languages, New Zealand could assist in this area. We need to create a platform where we can share these skill sets and opportunities,” she says.

Geo AR Games was always international, and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, as an international city, was the perfect launchpad for Mel to reach an overseas market. Mel is a global player, and the world is her playground.

To touch base with Mel, check out her LinkedIn. To learn more about how you, too, can hit the field of tech and entrepreneurship.