Building a New America: Mike Draskovic

Microsoft Bay Area is committed to helping solve local challenges through technology, deep relationships and a commitment to serving the needs of the Bay Area community. Here on our blog, we’ve focused on the organizations and civic leaders that are moving our cities forward. In this series, we’re highlighting fellows from New America CA, which supports social entrepreneurs at the forefront of local innovation.

As augmented and virtual reality become more and more prevalent in our everyday technology, it’s no surprise that some of its biggest advocates are working to incorporate this new wave into the civic sector.

Michael Draskovic, New America California fellow, founder of Ovrture and head of business development at Waypoint Labs, is one of many leaders in AR and VR that is exploring its civic applications.

By using his experience in virtual reality gained from his career and beyond, Draskovic is thinking through how submersive media can be applied to some of our biggest problems.

“I think one of the strongest uses of technology is for social uses,” Draskovic explains. “It has the ability to help people learn new skills, improves their knowledge, and does it quickly… It’s really exciting when you pair technology’s power to the needs of our society.”

With New America, Draskovic is looking at civic use cases where AR is being applied. This ranges from organizations like GE and Boeing, who provide smart glasses to their front-line workers for efficiency, to healthcare technology like SugAR Poke, an app that allows users to detect hidden sugars in packaged food through image recognition. He calls this a “brilliant use case in how we can start pulling and extracting data from our physical world to help us make smarter decisions.”

Draskovic says these developments in alternate reality don’t stop at his own personal work.

“There’s a big movement within the virtual reality community to use VR technology to build empathy among people,” he tells us, citing several applications that can create experiences that put you in the shoes of refugees or have you sit across from an Israeli or Palestinian soldier. “They really create a dialogue where there’s very little dialogue today,” he says. “That’s a big movement I’m seeing in this space. There’s amazing people in the forefront of that.”

On the Microsoft front, Draskovic has even seen students from Dartmouth design software for HoloLens that will help identify and decode signs inside buildings to help the blind and visually impaired navigate them.

“That’s an incredible application of how AR is being used to improve accessibility,” he tells us.

Draskovic is also finding seeing signs of promise that this new technology can be used to create real social change. He’s found civic applications of AR and VR in health, manufacturing, accessibility — and even in entertainment. He sees Pokemon Go as a use case in technology that provides entertainment as well as social value.

“What that game did — and its founders were very intentional about this — was it created a sense of community based in the physical world. That is important, too,” explains Draskovic.

He points to the City of Boston, which formed a partnership with Niantic’s development team to get young people in the city to memorialize various civic sites within the city inside the game. Now, PokeStops include various statues and landmarks selected by Boston’s youth. This, he tells us, is a prime example of utilizing the entertainment factor in AR to promote civic engagement and enthusiasm.

“The way in which a nonprofit (Niantic) and the City of Boston collaborated — I’d love to see more of that,” Draskovic says.

Moving forward with New America California, Draskovic aims to take civic applications like these and transform the face of VR and AR. And he credits New America — which he says “represents the best ideas and directions we need to head in the country” — to promoting this drive for change in him.

“For me, as an entrepreneur and former advocate in the anti-poverty space, I’ve seen firsthand how important policy is in affecting lives of millions of people,” he tells us. “New America represents the very best way of going about studying and thinking about policy.”