Bringing a bit of magic to Manchester for Chinese New Year

A key aspiration of CityVerve is to find ways to integrate technology into experiences citizens already have with their environment. We want to enrich these experiences and bring community events to life in new and interesting ways.

Our City Concierge use case is one example of how the CityVerve consortium is doing this. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is working to create new interactive wayfinding and digital navigation experiences within the city that are consistent with the physical signage that already exists.

Part of this effort will aim to encourage walking and cycling within the city, while promoting local events and businesses.

Sparta Digital has been working with TfGM to create a new augmented reality-enabled wayfinding experience for the city, which makes use of proximity sensors installed around Manchester City centre. The work that Ordnance Survey has been doing to provide highly detailed mapping of the area has also contributed to the process of designing wayfinding routes.

Helping locals and city visitors alike to discover and get the most from events and businesses in the city forms a key part of this particular initiative.

Parade pilots

We saw the first example of this at the Manchester Pride parade last year, where Sparta’s Buzzin smartphone app offered interactive information and features to help visitors find out more about all there was to do and see on the day.

Buzzin interacts with more than 100 Alpha Node sensors installed across Manchester at locations  including buses, event venues, tourist attractions and various local businesses. The sensors contain micro-location-based beacons that connect digital experiences with the physical world.

So far this year, Sparta has already piloted new features in their Buzzin app to offer an augmented reality (AR) experience to revellers at January’s Chinese New Year celebrations in Manchester. Users were able to browse through events and happenings in the city, navigate to and around them whilst also interacting with wayfinding signage and totems.

Among the interactive experiences on offer through the app was the Zodiac Hunt – a fun, Pokemon Go-esque quest during which the twelve Chinese zodiac animals were virtually scattered around the city centre. A map displaying the locations of the different animals could then be used to track the characters down.

Once a user had found any three of the zodiac animals using the AR camera built into the app, they were able to collect a prize. Interacting, in-app, with the coins and animals collected would also reveal information about that particular zodiac.

Historic attractions

For a second experience, the app integrated with the light up replicas of the world famous Terracotta Army exhibition – the main highlight of the Year of the Rooster celebrations in Manchester this year.

The app brought the exhibit to life for visitors: by pointing their smartphone camera at the lanterns, users could reveal hidden information on who the real Terracotta Warriors were and why they were originally created. Sparta’s proximity beacon sensors were placed at different locations around the installation to interact with smartphones within a 60m range.

In addition to this, Sparta and Buzzin helped to extend merrymakers’ celebrations beyond these events across the weekend. App users were offered the best deals in Manchester’s bars and restaurants thanks to the app’s location technology, along with unique digital content served up by proximity sensors installed across the city centre.

Proximity beacon sensors were also placed at Exchange Square and St Peter’s Square tram stops, to send out live tram timings from TfGM’s new journey planning system.

Connecting with the crowd

The app is available on both Android and iOS and was downloaded over the Chinese New Year weekend by 639 people.

More than 136 smartphones interacted with the Sparta sensors, receiving info on trams and local offers.

Over 120 users registered to play the Zodiac Hunt, collecting around 166 coins distributed around the various event locations. Around 27 intrepid zodiac hunters were successful in earning themselves a prize too – all of which exceeded our expectations, especially as the Great British weather was working against us for much of the weekend!

Looking at the ‘dwell times’ recorded, we also found that over 400 people spent at least 5 minutes exploring the Terracotta Army lanterns location. Crowd density peaked at 2pm around Exchange Square, while things hotted up a little later at St Peter’s Square – the busiest time was 5pm.

This kind of data is invaluable for a number of reasons, not least for helping service providers to optimise their operations to best serve those living in and visiting our city.

As ever with the CityVerve project, we’re constantly learning and evolving and the insights we gathered from our Chinese New Year activities will help us to refine and evolve not only future plans for City Concierge but other use cases within the project.

New Year is just the beginning

The Chinese New Year event was the first in a three phase approach to creating new digital wayfinding experiences. Future implementations will include routes between Piccadilly and Victoria train stations, and the Oxford Road corridor.

Sparta will be working with TfGM, Ordnance Survey and other partners to build this service for the city. The different phases will demonstrate new ways of digital wayfinding with AR and proximity sensors which can then be integrated into existing TfGM journey planning services.

For the next phases of the City Concierge use case, the app will be further enhanced with exciting features to engage citizens and improve travel experiences in the city.

February 10, 2017 in News

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