An Australian entrepreneur is set to launch a new app to help preserve the culture of Indigenous Australians through technology.
Northern Territory-based founder Mikaela Jade will launch the Digital Rangers app next month at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September.
The app uses augmented reality to tell the stories of culturally significant Indigenous sites around Australia, Jade says.
“It allows traditional owners to tell their own stories in their own way,” Jade tells StartupSmart.
Through the app, users can aim their smartphone’s camera at an object such as rock art, and the app will then provide unique details and tell the story of the site.
“It uses image recognition technology similar to facial recognition in airports,” Jade says.
“We’re also experimenting with 3D digital animations to bring the figures on rock art to life.”
The app will be launched in three Australian locations initially, with Jade planning to expand its offering to include natural sites, parks and ranges around the world, and even for places that could be damaged by climate change to show what has been lost.
The app can be bought for $7, with half of the profits going towards the traditional owners involved with creating the content.
Jade says that many of the people involved with the project were eager to share their culture.
“It creates value in different ways,” she says.
“Through developing the product in the Arnhem region, we’ve had traditional owners basically just come out of the bush on their own accord to come and work on the project.
“They see it as a brilliant way to engage young people in the sharing of that traditional knowledge.”
Closing the digital divide
The Digital Rangers app has been developed by Jade’s company InDigital, which aims to use technology for the benefit of Indigenous communities around the world.
“InDigital is an ethical Indigenous company,” she says.
“We create digital products for traditional owners and Indigenous communities around the world, and others who want to access Indigenous knowledge in an ethical way.”
Based in the heritage-listed Kakadu area, Jade and her team of three work to develop innovative new ways to digitise and translate knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities.
“Our peoples have been innovating for at least 50,000 years,” Jade says.
“There is tremendous opportunity to combine this with new bleeding edge tech.
“My biggest hope is that we close the digital divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities around the world through developing products that use cutting-edge digital tools in ways to benefit the community.”
The Aussie entrepreneur will also be heading a UN-supported discussion on ways to do this while also ensuring that traditional owners are protected in terms of data ownership, distribution of content and profit share.
“We’ll be holding a big forum about the use of augmented reality in Indigenous culture and knowledge with a working group of Indigenous elders from around the world,” Jade says.
Leading the way
It was seeing this digital divide that motivated Jade to leave her 14-year career as a public servant and launch InDigital.
To do this, Jade enrolled at entrepreneurial college BSchool and moved from Canberra to the Northern Territory.
She says it was especially difficult to bring investors on board to her long-term vision for the company.
“Being an Indigenous company it’s probably more difficult than other startups to secure capital,” Jade says.
“We’re considered high-risk – a number of investors told me that’s the case.”
Despite wanting to find local investment, Jade was forced to look overseas to secure funding.
“It went against what I wanted for the company but once I showed that people from the US want it, now Australians are really listening,” she says.
Earlier this year Jade was named as one of five entrepreneurs to watch by BSchool, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sung her praise during a speech about Indigenous innovation.
“Your leadership is so important, your example is more persuasive, more eloquent than any speech by a politician or any book,” Turnbull said.
“What you’re doing is setting an example and inspiring so many others.”
She says this was a special moment for Indigenous entrepreneurs around the country.
“It was nice to have a prime minister shine the light on Indigenous entrepreneurship,” Jade says.
“There are quite a lot of Indigenous entrepreneurs now.
“I always tell people if they have a bias round Indigenous people and our ability to do cutting-edge stuff that, ‘yes, we do use digital technology and we’re really excited about not only using digital technology but designing it as well’.”