Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Prototyping moveME – a location-aware indoor mobile App with tracking

June 6th, 2011 by Seb Chan

Last week at CeBIT the announcement came through that a project that has been under wraps for a little while now received NSW Government funding to move ahead. It is a collaborative project bringing together commercial partners with the Museum being used, as our Director puts it in the media release, “to directly support the NSW technology industry by being a ‘living laboratory’ for the development of this product”.

A consortium formed by Smarttrack RFID, RAMP RFID, MOB and the Powerhouse Museum is delighted to be selected as one of the first recipients of funding from the NSW Government under the Collaborative Solutions program. Announced on Tuesday 31 May, the NSW Government’s Collaborative Solutions programme aims to help build the digital economy in NSW.

And although there’s two companies involved with RFID in their names, this project is not about RFID at all – but instead is developing and trialling a mobile platform which, combined with indoor location awareness, is able to deliver customised content to visitors and also deliver valuable spatial analytics data back to the museum to assist with future exhibition design and spatial configuration.

Julian Bickersteth and Christopher Ainsley delivered a paper, Mobile Phones & Visitor Tracking, at Museums and the Web 2011 that outlined the broad premise of the project in April.

Discussing the use of tracking applications in the retail sector they wrote,

The museum sector is small and consequently does not have the resources to make use of this opportunity. However, significant components of museum operations have synergies with the retail sector, a part of the economy with deeper pockets for exploring new technologies. The museum sector has a history of piggy backing on the technological developments of its retail cousins, whether in the overt area of streamlining their own retail operations (both in the museum shop and on-line) or more subtly in using retail counting systems to accurately count museum visitors.

Shopping malls in particular share many physical characteristics with museums. They are both likely to be large masonry structures with a limited number of entrances, to contain a series of retail or exhibition spaces along with catering areas, joined by large open spaces. Both shopping mall and museum operators want to know where the more and less popular areas are located, what the dominant paths followed by visitors are, how long they spend in catering outlets and retail stores, and how long they spend in the mall/museum as a whole.

For the retail mall operators (known in the business as RAMs or Retail Asset Managers), critical to their thinking is adjacencies and synergies of the retail and catering mix so as to maximise rental income through more intelligent leasing. This in turn allows them to charge top dollar for shops in prime positions, and also control who gets a lease in the first place.

I sent Julian a number of questions about the project to expand on.

F&N – How did moveMe come about?

MoveMe started as visitor counting project which then expanded into visitor tracking. Visitor tracking works best if the visitors are using an App (giving them a reason to turn their devices on etc), hence the addition of the App. But then the packaging of this offering to include location specific content delivery and way finding clearly became a much more interesting space to be in, hence the evolution into moveMe.

F&N – How effective has this technology been in the shopping mall environment? What sorts of business decision making has this enable or improved?

This is still being trialled, but where it has in US department stores and super-hardware stores, it clearly has the ability to help staffing and also response to promotions. Since both these areas are high cost items, it is data they are very keen to get their hands on. [There’s some expansion on this in the MW paper]

F&N – You’ve seen a lot of mobile projects around the world. How does this differ in potential from what you’ve seen at AMNH and, locally, MONA?

Both AMNH and MONA cost absolutely heaps to design and install. Our solution is going to be much cheaper to deliver because it uses a different technology for tracking. Also it will be designed as a generic rather than a bespoke solution, so can be provided over the Internet for museums to locally self install and use.

F&N – What do you hope will be the key benefits of this system that is being prototyped?

For the visitor, focused delivery of far wider information than they could ever get from a label, plus the removal of having to squint at and possibly queue to see a label before they know what you are looking at. Also way finding. This is a critical issue in any big museum, which actually puts people off exploring as they might get lost. For the museum the ability to provide access to much more information plus also understand visitor patterns and behaviour in a way which up to now has just not been possible in a systematic and regular way

The prototype will be bundled into a cross-platform exhibition App that we are building in-house for the upcoming Love Lace – Powerhouse International Lace Award exhibition that launches with Sydney Design 2011. This will provide the first access to the technologies involved and also demonstrate how it can be potentially plugged into existing mobile tour platforms if required (as well as provide a full service for those without an existing App).

We will keep you posted on the project as it develops.

Tags: 2 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Seb,
    I’ve worked on several location-aware audio projects, and published papers and a PhD thesis on human factors regarding audio augmented reality and locative audio.
    How will this project incorporate, or present audio to the user?
    Are there any particular innovations regarding audio presentation?
    cheers
    Nick
    http://soundsorange.net

  • Fabulous! If the team can crack this, it will be *huge* for the sector. Can’t wait to try out the prototype during Sydney Design Festival.