Time to Act! How Extended Reality Technologies can mitigate Natural Disasters

Time to Act! How Extended Reality Technologies can mitigate Natural Disasters

Sally Eaves 15/09/2022
Time to Act! How Extended Reality Technologies can mitigate Natural Disasters

Climate change is one of the most pervasive global challenges we face today, from the rising sea levels which raise the risk of catastrophic flooding, through to shifting weather patterns that threaten critical food production - the impacts are unprecedented in scope and scale. Indeed, as powerfully described by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, climate change is a “crisis multiplier” with profound implications for human wellbeing, international peace and stability, and of course, the very health of our planet. And beyond this are the vast asset and activity losses incurred too.

We are in a defining moment where awareness and action is key to mitigate these natural disasters, and Extended Reality Technologies (XR) can help enable exactly this.


Source: Softengi

An umbrella term, Extended Reality (XR) comprises the immersive learning technologies of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). These modify the traditional human-to-device screen interface by either immersing you in a simulated virtual environment in the case of VR, or by adding to, or augmenting, the user’s surroundings in the case of AR, this using digital objects but in the real environment. Mixed reality essentially describes the combination of the two. 

The physical and digital worlds can now be bridged, further supported by the acceleration in 5G adoption, and the rise of the metaverse. With immersive technologies becoming more natural and intuitive – moving from being screen based to voice or gesture based – this interactive content has the power to transform not just enterprise, education and consumer experiences, but also how we approach some of the biggest challenges of our time. In essence it enables the capacity to align content and conduct for good! And bringing this to life and centre stage, enter the new challenge and opportunity set by SwissRe and Microsoft at HackZurich! Let’s now explore all the key details and how to follow the journey!  

HackZurich, taking place this Sept 16-18th is now in its 8th year, fast becoming Europe’s biggest hackathon and further, also the largest hybrid hackathon worldwide, helping to democratise access to opportunity and unite the most innovative and creative tech talents, with an exceptionally strong university outreach. To me, it represents the ethos of a festival of fun inspirational learning, combined with access to emergent technologies and expert mentoring, and a shared values commitment to design and development for good. 

After an application process, during the event itself the tech talents build web-,mobile-, and hardware applications during a 40 hour hackathon, supported by access to hardware, novel technologies, tools, datasets, and APIs to help spark the creation of new prototypes. Teams of 2-5 people come together after selecting one of the dynamic challenges on offer, primarily related to social impact causes. And this year, Challenge 11 is "Raise Risk Awareness through Extended Reality - Use XR technologies to convey the consequences of natural catastrophes in the first person and add new perspectives on risk’.

Swiss Re's Risk Engineering Services team were the architects of this timely challenge, reflecting the company’s long standing commitment to help make the world more resilient, by helping communities and businesses to prepare for and mitigate the consequences of disasters, from flood to food. With the transformation to a data-empowered risk-knowledge company Swiss Re today has access to very granular real-time data and analytics driven risk insights to offer more accurate and accessible re/insurance solutions. Microsoft has provided the underlying platform, exemplifying the power of partnership for sustainable scalable goods. 


In this challenge, participants will be tasked with creating a natural catastrophe simulation utilizing Extended Reality (VR/AR/MR) technology and using real flood data. The aim is to raise awareness, increase resilience and reduce risk and the solution can contain but is not limited to simulations of flood scenarios from an indoor point of view and/or a real-world use case on existing facilities. Participants can choose the technologies, tools and data sets they wish to incorporate, and any additional features such as gamification, metrics and damage estimation. This may include incorporating Swiss Re’s extant flood risk assessment tool ‘FLOAT’ which uses drones to capture location-specific elevation data and gives uses a more accurate and cost efficient way to identify low points. 

All participants will be supported in the process by Swiss Re Engineers, a dedicated Discord channel and colleagues from challenge partner Microsoft who are also hosting a tech talk on the Building Blocks for XR, with more details here. In terms of judging the submissions, this will be based on pre-selected criteria including Desirability, Feasibility, Viability and more. And critically the support will not end when the hackathon does! Tailored to the type of solution developed, the winning team will not only win a fantastic prize but will also receive personalised support to drive forward their innovation with real clients, or potentially form a partnership. And a reminder now that all the details on the challenge can be explored here

The results will all be announced in the closing ceremony on Sunday Sept 18th and as one of the judges, I have a feeling this will be a tough call! And you can be part of the experience too, as we will be sharing all the latest news live on site, speaking to participants and mentors, and sharing their journey of co-developing innovation for good. I hope you can join us – all feedback and questions most welcome, thank you for your support, Sally

About the Author

Prof. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced chief technology officer, professor in advanced technologies, and a Global Strategic Advisor on digital transformation specializing in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, 5G, cloud, security, and IoT disciplines, for business and IT transformation, alongside social impact at scale.

An international keynote speaker and author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations, and has been described as the "torchbearer for ethical tech", founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity, and belonging in the technology space and beyond. Sally is also the chair for the Global Cyber Trust at GFCYBER.

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Sally Eaves

Tech Expert

Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, FinTech, Blockchain & 5G disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity and belonging in the technology space and beyond.

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