NatureTime - Reconnecting to nature in urban environments
Improving people's health and their connection to nature in urban and suburban spaces.
Pitch us on your solution
People are losing their connection to nature, especially in urban environments, where the benefits of spending time in nature are not reaching the most vulnerable communities. This disconnect affects people’s health, wellbeing, and behavior. Natural spaces need to be created with the user in mind to be beneficial, and encourage people to spend more time in outside. For this, we need data on what works and what does not. NatureTime will collect data of people's preferences for natural spaces, the distance they are willing to commute, time of day, social interaction, etc. all while helping people find natural spaces around them, inform them of natural and manmade features like plants and wildlife, soccer fields, playgrounds, etc. through a gamified experience. The application will reward the user for the time spent outside to encourage healthier behaviors and a connection to nature that is beneficial for both people and the environment.
What is the problem you are solving?
People are spending more and more time disconnected to nature. This leads to decreased mental and physical health, decreased work and school performance and reduced overall happiness. This disconnect also leads to less environmentally sustainable behaviors, less support for environmentally responsible government action, and decreased appreciation for nature as a whole. Especially affected are those that live in cities, particularly vulnerable communities with less leisure time. As cities prepare to accommodate the substantial urban growth projected in the next decade, designing and creating effective natural spaces becomes a key feature of healthy human populations. Unfortunately, we do not understand what will make a natural space more appealing and valuable to users. To collect the necessary data we have created NatureTime. The app encourages users to spend time outside, educates them on plants and animals through a gamified experience, and collects data to inform green space urban planning. NatureTime encourages and records any time spent outside, from backyards to greenways and parks, understanding that not everyone can access what is conventionally deemed a “natural area”. As the users learn and interact with the nature around them, the value and benefits of protecting nature will become evident, leading to environmentally friendly behaviors.
Who are you serving?
This work will directly impact urban residents, particularly those with less resources and money to regularly commute to State and National parks, and have had very little exposure to nature. With more effective and alluring natural spaces in urban areas, people will regularly reap it’s health and emotional benefits and value and understand nature in a more sustainable way. NatureTime will reward users for spending time outside and providing feedback on what is more and less appealing about the nature around them. This information will be available to city planners to design useful natural areas that will effectively increase well being. We hope to engage users of all ages that only need access to a phone. Because of the gamified experience, spending time in nature does not mean being disconnected from technology, but using technology to enhance the experience and learning while rewarding the user for being outside.
What is your solution?
Nature Time has not been developed yet.
With NatureTime we want to achieve three goals:
1- Increase the time urbanites spend outside.
2- Understand what makes natural urban spaces more appealing to users.
3- Reconnect people to Nature to encourage more environmentally sustainable behaviors.
Conceptually, NatureTime is a mobile application that utilizes AI and augmented reality to educate and reward people for spending time outdoors through a gamified experience. The application shows the location, infrastructure (trails, sports fields, playgrounds, etc.), and natural features (wildlife, plants, sounds, etc.) of the natural spaces.
NatureTime collects information on user preferences and the structures that make the natural space safer, more appealing and more usable. It also asks users what would make that space better, or what type of space is needed if there is none available. The app will help us understand time of day users can explore nature, distance from home base they are willing to travel, and type of rewards that effectively increase time spent outside.
Through the application we will be able to understand the real barriers to green space use, from safety concerns, to places that are just to inaccessible or boring for the users because of their features. In the U.S. natural spaces are marketed as faraway places that you may visit once in a lifetime. This idea of nature being a place of isolation may be appealing to some, with specific resources, time and cultural background. But people with more than one job, single parents, people that have never experienced nature and the idea of being in the middle of nowhere is not only scary, but culturally unacceptable, etc. are not likely to view that space as something they can enjoy. In a study done by the boating industry they showed an image of a lone fisherman on a boat during an a sunset and learned that respondents that identified as non-Latinx white, thought the man was enjoying the solitude, away from the stresses of life. But for the respondents identified as Latinx, the man was depressed, had no family and seemed very lonely. For some communities spending time in nature is sharing a meal with extended family in a park where the kids can play. Culture, socio-economic status, incentives and barriers, and life experience matter when designing effective green spaces in cities.
Which dimensions of the challenge does your solution most closely address?
Where is your solution team headquartered?DuPont, WA, USA
Select one of the below:
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
The solution is innovative in how it approaches time outdoors and obtaining information on user preferences. After the response to applications like PokemonGo, it is obvious that rewarding people for spending time outdoors is a good way to incentivize them to get outside. If that rewards comes from visiting and rating green spaces, even better. The solution we propose will use augmented reality to teach users about the wildlife and plants present in the different natural spaces during different times of the year, rewarding them for spending time in that space and in the future maybe even allowing them to design the perfect space. There are no other applications like this one in the market right now. The users will provide data on what makes a green space preferable, or what features will entice users to stay outside longer. It will also give us information on what they value. Do they value biodiversity over a specific animal species? Do they value having a field to play sports, or easy access to bathrooms more than they value solitude or more natural looking spaces? We usually get this type of information from surveys, but the responses are not always reliable, on paper we all value biodiversity, but in real life, I am most likely to visit a park where I feel safe and my toddler can access a bathroom, or one that is on my way to work, or one that has good lighting because I can only use it after dark.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
We have not yet defined the technology, as this project is in the concept phase.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
If we create an application that is easy and fun to use and rewards time spent outside, more people in urban areas will spend time in nature, reaping the health and emotional benefits that nature promises. If the application collects data on user preferences for outdoor spaces, then we can design urban green spaces that effectively impact urbanites in a positive way, spaces that are used more often and for more time. More time in natural spaces equals better health and more happiness, which in turn will increase the perceived value of nature and inform user decision making towards more environmentally friendly behavior.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
At this time this project is in the concept stage, so we are not currently serving anyone. With time, we hope to serve people living in urban environments and city planners.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The project is in the concept stage and we need financial and mentorship assistance. We see the need and think this is a possible solution, but lack the resources to properly research the market and engage appropriate partners interested in developing the application with us.
We need to better understand the interest of cities in creating effective natural spaces, and their willingness to invest in a tool that may inform the design.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are applying to several grants, like this one. We are also searching for people that can give us constructive feedback on the idea. Last, we are trying to find the appropriate network of support to see the project through.
Once we have a prototype, we plan to share the application with government and non profits interested in people's wellbeing and urban development to better gauge interest and applicability.
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How many people work on your solution team?
Four full time, and four part time. We also have a partner organization that focuses on technology development and a big network of contractors that would come on board if the solution becomes a reality.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
We are a team of experienced conservationists, sociologists and designers. We have worked in academia, government and privately. Our company is female and minority owned, we are the people that live in urban spaces and see the need for more effective natural areas. We have a network of professionals ready to work if this concept comes to life.
My experience working for a government wildlife conservation agency has exposed me to the need to better understand what drives people to connect to nature and the shortcomings of the way things have been done in the past. We need innovative approaches, and we have an outside the box drive for innovation.
We feel a sense of urgency to connect people to nature, to bring nature to where people are. We know that both people and nature benefit from that connection, and if we want people to become more environmentally friendly in their behavior, we need to let them experience the intrinsic value nature brings to their lives.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We still need to figure this out. That is why we have applied to SOLVE, for mentorship.
We think selling add space for outdoor brands and other related industries may be the path to financial sustainability. The application could also be an avenue for governments and non-profits to communicate with the users, making it appealing for them to have a monetary investment in the app.