Citizen Journalism: How augmented reality is inspiring Manchester’s future pioneers

Smart cities promise so much: to create cleaner and more transparent, safer and prosperous places, where we will all live longer and more enlightened lives.

However, in reality, all that potential can feel far away. That’s why the impatient among us are drawn to CityVerve; there’s no need to wait 10 years for the future when you can experience it first in Manchester and just by going about your everyday business.

One time-traveling technique is the city’s pioneering use of augmented reality (AR). The latest CityVerve project in this field is The City of Firsts – an exciting, new AR-aided walking tour that awakes your curiosity along the Oxford Road Corridor.

Using the Buzzin app on your smartphone, you will discover the locations of historic and present-day significance where the “First” things happened, which are then brought to life as on overlay to its real-world setting.

A force for good

A cross between a tour guide, history lesson and treasure hunt, The City of Firsts aims to illuminate, inform, and entertain in equal measure. it surfaces the hidden history of Manchester like never before – something its developers, Sparta Digital, care about deeply.

“Manchester is rich in cultural history with a lot of it being tucked away down Victorian-age side streets and converted old buildings,” says Louis Lincoln Heywood, a Digital Marketing Executive at Sparta Digital. “We work with customers to match real life problems with available innovations, and AR allows users to explore the city and discover hidden gems they probably never knew were there. I’ve discovered so much myself just working on the project!”

If we accept the fact that most of us are tethered to our smartphones, it makes sense to make them a force for good. With The City of Firsts, CityVerve is putting people in direct contact with local history, in the very location where those events happened.

With a smartphone in hand, users are guided to each new location via a digital map. Once there, they can use their AR camera to interact with their holographic tour guide who tells the story of what pioneering occurrence has happened in the location you’re stood in, both past and present.

From the first ever meeting of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce and consequent formation of Rolls Royce, to the splitting of the atom, there’s no shortage of stories to tell.

It’s the kind of simple-but-powerful application that could go beyond the initial objectives of CityVerve and help to propel AR into the mainstream.

A new kind of gallery

Another application of the technology that you can enjoy today is the Manchester Plinth, a project which has created a virtual art exhibition around the city.

There are now seven plinths installed in key locations around the city centre, including the Town Hall, Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Each Plinth can be scanned with the Buzzin app to reveal a unique piece of virtual art which you can interact with by clicking on it.

The virtual art is curated on a seasonal cycle and includes museum artefacts, site-specific installations or other special showcases of professional artists’ work. In the process the Plinth project transports collections outside of their traditional gallery and museum settings, introducing them to a wider audience to discover and enjoy.

Staying power

Louis and his Sparta Digital colleagues are quick to counter any suggestion that AR might be a gimmick or passing trend, as per the Pokemon Go craze of 2016. We’ve only just scratched the surface with AR and city life,” he explains, “if we can inform and educate citizens so that they make informed decisions about getting the most from their city whilst also entertaining them then everybody wins.”

Both The City of Firsts and the Manchester Plinth tours can be found on the Buzzin app, which is free to download on all Apple and Android smartphones.

May 14, 2018 in Citizen Journalism

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