As a native of Alabama, Apple CEO Tim Cook has a special place in his heart for the state. He also empathizes with the struggles that African-Americans have historically faced in the state, particularly during the 1950s and '60s civil rights era.
Now, Cook and his company are giving back to Birmingham, the city that served as the epicenter for the civil rights movement, with the gift of augmented reality.
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On Thursday, Cook was among the speakers for the launch of Ed Farm (aka Education Farm), a program run by the non-profit organization TechAlabama, which is focused on technology education and training for students, educators, and adults. Apple is supporting the initiative with hardware, software, and financial backing.
"Education is in Apple's DNA, and Alabama is in mine," said Cook, during a speech at the launch event for the initiative in Alabama.
In turn, Ed Farm will also team up with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to "develop digital storytelling and augmented reality tools" that will help to tell the history of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
"Few cities have played a more consequential role in our struggle to build a free and fair society, where equality of opportunity is real. That work did not end with Brown v. Board of Education or the Civil Rights Act. It still has not ended to this day," said Cook during the press conference. "It's a story about civil rights, about education, about the city and its centrality to the American project of forming a more perfect union. So in our common quest to build a new future, defined by education, innovation, and technology, we have to meet today's enduring injustices with the enduring commitment to equality that this city has long embodied."
While there were few other details on the AR experience, one of Ed Farm's educators recently shared an image featuring an iPad operating Reality Composer, which indicates that Apple's AR tool for non-programmers will play a role in the development.
Apple's gift of augmented reality extends beyond facilitating historical storytelling. With financial backing from corporate partners such as Apple and Alabama Power, Ed Farm will leverage Apple's Everyone Can Code (which includes augmented reality training) and Everyone Can Create curricula, with Apple providing more than 400 devices for use in the program. Initially, the program will serve students and adults in the Birmingham area, but it will expand to a statewide initiative for the 2020-21 school year.
"The Ed Farm is about clearing a path for anyone – of any age, background or interest – whether or not they're destined for a career in technology. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, of a strong vision for the future, of the tireless advocacy of educators, students, and Birmingham leaders," said Cook.
There are several examples of AR experiences that tell the story of important US history, but there's one in particular that serves as a powerful example of how impactful such immersive approaches to history can be. Last year, Google launched Stonewall Forever, a mobile app that told the story of the Stonewall Riots that catalyzed the Pride Movement.
Like Stonewall, the Birmingham Civil Rights District is not only the site of a struggle for equal rights but also a national monument. It's easy to imagine how the technology can tell the story of the Civil Rights Era of Birmingham, where Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, A.G. Gaston, and others led the resistance against segregation and the four little girls tragically lost their lives in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
In 2017, Cook said that AR "is going to change everything." For Birmingham, AR is changing not only how it commemorates its history, but also potentially the career paths of its youth.