Dutch PSA Uses Augmented Reality Billboard to Immerse Viewers in Violent Conflict

While assaults on public servants are not rare in many countries, they are frequent enough in the Netherlands that the government dropped some coin on a provocative new public education campaign geared at shaming bystanders who fail to get involved when witnessing such an attack. Growing concern at this civic shortcoming prompted officials to place interactive billboards at busy intersections in Amsterdam and Rotterdam that literally pull their viewers onto the sidelines of a violent confrontation between thugs and emergency medical responders.

They manage to bring this scene to thousands and thousands a day through a pretty nifty trick. While augmented reality is nothing new, the Dutch approach is pretty innovative. They start with a blue screen (like the green screens of cinematic fame) set up in a film studio. They shoot a scene in the foreground in which some guys get into a shoving match with EMT workers that quickly degenerates into some cranial soccer and head stompage. The instigators proceed to rip the contents out of the ambulance parked nearby while continuing their rampage on the now lifeless public servants. It’s a graphic scene for sure.

Back on the streets of the Netherlands, the violent footage is overlaid on a video feed that is recording people across the street from the billboard. Those people who stop to watch the attack will notice themselves in the image, passively watching from across the street as the awful event unfolds.

It is a chilling and surreal way of delivering a difficult message. The PSA obviously stops short of asking people to physically confront the attackers. It requests that bystanders follow four steps: ask others for help and speak out together, call 112 (which I guess is more like 911 than 411 or 1-900), stay with the victim, and take photos to file with a police report. While the campaign is billed as informing citizens on how they should respond to similar situations, it is far more effective as a mechanism of shame. The discomfort induced by being forced into the event coupled with the inability to react because of its digital nature is an acutely unnerving, but effective, combination.

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~ by Wil Finley on April 29, 2010.

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