Work, not just Jobs: Helping AR Help People Help Others

** AR can help unskilled people learn and perform tasks of all sorts. And 30-40 million Americans face job losses right now due to Coronavirus. So let's match them with work, and not just jobs.

Look, it takes years and years to train people to do work. From taking care of the elderly, or working in healthcare or public health (e.g. contact tracing), assembling furniture, or simpler tasks like picking out groceries to bring to people during social distancing -- there's a lot of work and a lot of help needed.

And like new two-sided marketplaces for labor, like Amazon Local Services, Uber or TaskRabbit, instead of needing a $30,000 car and expensive carbon-based fuel, or a $30,000/year education... all you'll need is yourself, an Internet connection, and an AR-capable device -- to do all sorts of useful tasks on behalf of other people. And ideally get paid for it.

What it does

AR Tasks solves for two classes of users: Customers and Workers.

  1. Customers can specify or select from pre-entered Task sets. These may have suggested prices for the total Task set to be done. For example, picking out a set of vegetables from the greengrocer or fresh air farmer's market could be a $5 task. They then enter payment information and this payment is held in escrow, along with an administrative fee, until a Worker is found and can be assigned to the task.

The Customer can also specify if they want a new worker or an experienced one, see reviews, and potentially set thresholds on what level of experience they will require -- but also pay more for more experience if they want.

  1. Workers can choose to work on certain Task types, see estimates of how much time it'll take to do the work from previous Workers, and what minimum amount they'd like to be paid for the work.

For example, they might see a Task for a neighbor asking to pick up some vegetables from the Farmer's Market for $5.00. They might even know the neighbor on Facebook, so they'll do the job for free since they'll be walking past their house today anyway. But they don't know what the vegetable looks like and aren't familiar with shopping at the Farmer's Market.

The Worker can also update the Customer with status, and ask questions for clarification especially if there are unexpected events.

In this example, the Worker launches the Tasks app on their AR device and navigates to the Farmer's Market down the block. They then see a task list - a simple description of the item accompanied by an image, in this case an image of the vegetable the Customer wants. The farmer is offering a great two-for-one deal. The Worker asks the Customer if they want an extra vegetable; the Customer doesn't reply quickly so the Worker picks up the extra vegetable and thanks the Farmer.

They point the camera of the AR device at the item as they're completing the task, and confirm that these are the same thing. They use the Tasks credit card to pay for the item with the Merchant (Tasks has already escrowed the funds), and then they head to the Customer's house -- who happens to be a neighbor on Facebook -- and they drop off the vegetables. They then take a photo of the completed task (in this case, the deliver on the stoop of their neighbor's house) and the funds are transferred to their account. In this case, the neighbors are friend. So the Worker decides to donate the proceeds ($5.00 in this case) to a charity they care about: the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund at the World Health Organization. The Worker shares this on Facebook with their friends so their friends can donate too.

Finally, another 3rd class of users, "Sponsors" can sponsor Tasks to be performed. Maybe you're a health insurer, and Dr. Freddy Abnousi from Facebook is wondering how Oculus AR could help health insurers. Well it turns out you'd love to make sure that elderly people can recover safely at home, rather than in hospitals or even nursing homes. AR devices can help make this happen, by dividing up tasks and letting AR Tasks source the very best people to take care of elderly patients who need more help.

How I built it

I used SparkAR Studio to load in graphics assets that contained the "Task List" for the Worker.

I used a simple Google Form to handle Customer and Worker requests for the time being, as I don't know how to code very well (and ran out of time to re-learn). But I can have people do the back-end matching for now, and Google Forms has a back-end API that I can eventually integrate into. I can also modify the Form quickly without production interruptions.

Challenges I ran into

SparkAR Studio didn't really have a way for me to add in arbitrary assets e.g. Textures (2D graphics), which I wanted to use to render the Task list and its updates. I wanted to use SparkAR to display dynamic text from another application, and dynamic images in order to show people instructions or a new photo of a vegetable/shopping target etc.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I did this project with my daughter, who, with my other daughter also, really wants a puppy. She is not old enough to enter the competition but I really wanted her to get an idea of the new world of Augmented Reality. Her name is Kimberly and she's learning computer science as a freshman.

What I learned

I learned that AR is not the easiest thing to work with right now. The tools are built mostly for Instagram and Snapchat-type filters. On the other hand, tools like Microsoft Hololens are almost over-built for super enterprise-y uses. But there's almost nothing in between. My guess is that Apple's AR device will probably land right in the sweet spot in between, which will be a great opportunity for Spark AR Studio and other frameworks like Spark AR.

What's next for Oculus Tasks

I could use some more teammates. I couldn't really find anyone who wanted to code with me or join my team, and I'm not good at coding myself -- I'm a doctor, after all. Also I'm not sure my current employer will be too happy with my side project.

But I do hope that I can get involved in stuff like this; it seems like the right thing to do, and a way to help lots of people in need do work, get paid, and help others. Especially in healthcare and aging -- we don't have enough people to help what the world needs right now, let alone the aging population even before this pandemic happened. I hope that AR Tasks and/or something like that can come online quickly.

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posted an update

Update: Disqualified :(

Here's the note I received from Aleida E Rossmann after experiencing errors submitting the Spark AR effect and effect ID; it was not yet published, and I shared the Facebook rather than Instagram link.

Here's the disqualification email I received:

"Hi Henry,

Thanks for entering a submission to the Facebook Hackathon! I'm writing to let you know that, currently, your submission is not eligible because the required access to your software is missing.

The rules state that you must provide the Share link to the Spark AR effect for Instagram (which includes the effect ID). If your effect is not yet published, you may provide the preview/testing link. You currently have a facebook link shared, but you need to share the instagram link to qualify for eligibility. If your instagram effect is not yet published, please share the instagram link and then include the facebook link in your testing instructions.

You can add to or edit your submission any time between now and the submission deadline at 5:00PM ET.

Thanks, Aleida"

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