Mikaela Jade and her start-up Indigital had dreams of bringing traditional stories into the digital era. An Indigenous person herself, a Cabrogal Woman from the Dharug-speaking Nations of Sydney, she sought to protect the culture and history of Indigenous peoples around Australia through a digital education platform that leveraged augmented reality.
Indigenous Elders today don’t always have the opportunities to pass on language or stories to younger generations, she found, and that has led to Australia having the dubious honour of the highest rate of Indigenous language extinction in the world. From over 800 Indigenous dialects across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, just 70 are still spoken today.
There remains an urgent need, to find new ways to tell these stories before more of this traditional knowledge goes to sleep.
At the same time, Mikaela noted, the digital economy seemed out of reach to many young Indigenous peoples - who, especially within their own communities, lacked a platform to inspire their technology futures.
Indigital had built a $150,000 platform to tackle these challenges, with great success and international acclaim. But the problem was that it couldn’t scale.
“Each time I wanted to put new content in the platform, it was costing about eight thousand dollars,” said Mikaela. “So when you extrapolate that out of 300 nations, just in Australia, and the kinds of stories people want to tell, it's a very expensive way of telling stories.”
Telstra Purple and Microsoft partnered with Indigital in 2019 to overhaul that augmented reality production workflow and re-platform the Indigital App.
The new app is cross-platform (Windows, iOS and Android), with an Azure-powered content workflow that leverages artificial intelligence services to classify and identify images as well as to recognise a student’s hand so that an animal or object can be rendered there.
It engages students through the popular game Minecraft, which both forms the landscape of the augmented reality experience and empowers young Indigenous people to create worlds of their own. Students using the platform also learn how to create, rig and animate 3D characters, as well as how to record language appropriately.
“Then our platform takes those three pieces of content they create, stitches it together and pushes it out into the real world in an augmented reality experience,” said Mikaela.
Indigital’s new app is included in a curriculum tailored to Indigenous students around Australia aged between 8 and 14 years old, to help teachers in building culturally-led digital skills among young Indigenous people - to equip students with knowledge of their peoples’ language, land and law, while simultaneously building digital literacy for their future.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to learn digital skills, and we wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to do that through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural lens…And we found that educators either are really great at tech and not so strong on cultural competency, or really amazing in cultural competency and not so great at tech. So…that's where we saw Indigital being able to play a role and really bridge the gap between cultural competency and digital skills development.”
Mikaela Jade, Founder & CEO of Indigital