Use of Augmented Reality (AR) to assist wayfinding in built environments: Introduction

Here at Liv Systems we’re currently running an internal project investigating the use of Augmented Reality (AR) as an aid to wayfinding within built environments. AR will assist wayfinding by overlaying digital navigational information onto the real-world view. This is part of our wider strategy to explore the applications and User Experience (UX) of emerging digital technologies, in particular AR, Virtual Reality (VR) and AI.

As such we’ll be running a series of blog posts related to how we believe AR can be used as a powerful and intuitive tool to aid wayfinding within built environments, transforming the task of finding our way around such environments from the disorientating and stressful experience it often is, with the current reliance on signage, or use of map based navigation apps, to a far less frustrating, greatly simplified task.

We’ll be approaching this topic not only from the point of view of the technology solutions available, but also based on a focus on the cognitive aspects of human navigation and the UX issues associated with designing effective AR navigation aids.

An illustration of how directional arrow and animated character based navigational information could be overlaid onto the real-world view at a London Underground station


Simplifying the wayfinding task in unfamiliar environments, will benefit a wide range of users, including users with impairments which may make wayfinding particularly challenging. For instance, a wide range of cognitive impairments, including impairments associated with early stage dementia, together with other issues such as autism spectrum disorder and some anxiety related conditions can make wayfinding in unfamiliar environments enormously difficult and stressful. In fact deterioration of navigation ability is known to be one of the earliest signs of dementia and as such tests of navigation skills, using VR environments, are now being introduced as a method of early warning detection of the onset of dementia.

Such cognitive impairments and neurological or psychological conditions, effectively act as a barrier for many people to making journeys to destinations in which they feel they may encounter such situations. For this reason, in addition to being of great benefit to us all, AR assisted navigation offers the promise of removing barriers to travel for many people and allowing them to retain their independence.

I am an active participant in the ‘Cognitive Navigation’  (CogNav) Special Interest Group of the Royal Institute of Navigation. The CogNav group is chaired by Professor Kate Jeffery, who is a behavioural neuroscientist at UCL specialising in the neuroscience of navigation. The CogNav group brings together academics and industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds including, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, industrial design, human factors and architecture, with the aim to better understand the cognitive aspects of human navigation so as to best design solutions to assist that.

As a result of my involvement in the CogNav group Liv Systems are able to bring the latest knowledge and research findings in this area to our exploration of the use of AR for wayfinding.

AR can be used to assist wayfinding in any large, complex built environment and the wider urban realm. Large built environments that can pose significant wayfinding issues include shopping malls, hospitals, museums, rail stations and airports.

We have already produced some early stage prototypes for concept development and are now in the process of developing a fully interactive navigational AR prototype. We are planning on conducting user research with our AR prototype within a large shopping mall in the near future.

A snapshot from one of our early prototypes, developed in, depicting the use of navigational arrows together with faded landmark overlays to assist in providing an overall sense of orientation

In our next blog post we’ll discuss how AR fits into the wider context of emerging digital technologies and how these technologies may provide the basis for a form of user interaction that has become known as ‘Zero UI’.

Please get in touch if you are interested in our work in this area and would like to know more.


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