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New AR Game to be launched by wahine Māori at World Expo

A ground-breaking new game which animates stories of Tāmaki Makaurau has been chosen as one of two edutech products to represent Aotearoa at the World Expo in Dubai.

Tuwhiri, set to launch in January is an augmented-reality app which its creator likens to Pokémon Go, with users pursuing 'pop-up augmented reality Māori history, rather than cuddly critters' according to award-winning game developer and ARA Journeys CEO Amber Taylor.

Taylor (Ngāti Whātua, Ngapuhi, Ngāti Mutunga) was chosen to represent New Zealand because ARA Journeys is 100% Māori owned and the business combines indigenous tech with female entrepreneurship.

Creating Tuwhiri was a natural step for Taylor who co-founded ARA Journeys in 2018 with award-winning ‘Journeys of Manu’ in which an AR character narrates 12 carvings under Māori lunar calendar (Maramataka). The concept of Tuwhiri appealed to Taylor because it helps urban Māori reconnect with history and mātauranga which has been paved over with migration and development.

“The stories in Tuwhiri are stories I thought we might have learnt at school, or even seen more visibly in the community. I grew up in Ōtara which, to me, has always had a strong Pasifika cultural identity, while Papatoetoe, Māngere and Manurewa seemed to have either very little or no Māori narratives, so Tuwhiri is a platform that can help us reconnect to local history.”

“I grew up as an Urban Māori, and my children are too, so Tuwhiri is a way for them to connect to their culture and our history, no matter where in the country - or world - they might live.” she said.

Taylor says Tuwhiri – which means ‘revealing something hidden’– has something for everyone, from tourists and migrants to Tauiwi and Māori residents. Users download the app, plan the locations of their journey (whakamaheretia), roam/explore (tūhurahia), and collect (kohia) items such as kumara and pounamu in exchange for discount codes (ngā hua) which can be redeemed at real-world local businesses.

The company says the app's goal is to not only offer an educational experience of the rohe, but also encourage physical fitness with users for example able to wander around Ambury Regional Park and learn about the ancient stories of the Manukau Harbour, complete with sounds, images and maps which bring the on-screen characters to life.

Taylor is from Taranaki and while she says the initial focus is on Tāmaki Makaurau the app will soon animate Māori stories right across the motu.

Before she co-founded ARA Taylor worked in the tertiary sector for 18 years with a focus on research and innovation in emerging technologies. As a National Digital Forum Auckland Regional Ambassador, Young Business Leaders member and USA Female Founded Club NZ scout she hopes Tuwhiri will encourage more Māori and Pasifika to consider tech as a career pathway.

“I want people to instantly recognise the Tuwhiri app as being uniquely Māori at first glance, rather than something developed offshore – it's important that our younger generations see there is a place for culture in tech and that embracing their culture can lead to opportunities here and overseas.”

Tuwhiri's debut in the United Arab Emirates coincides with the region celebrating STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math), having sent a satellite to Mars operated by 80% female staff.

Education New Zealand which is championing ARA's product has developed a four-day programme which runs during and either side of the Expo’s International Day of Education (January 24).