Third of three parts
Spring had sprung as I moved from the proof of concept stage – May 2014
May saw the iBeacon project and pilot take off for Kew and Wakehurst. May 14 I tweeted that the proof of concept work had gone well but in order to progress it wasn’t something we could do alone.
See the tweet here and feel free to follow me too.
Dot3digital were able to provide the platform and experience in order to support me in realising the potential for beacons. The aims of the Kew beacon pilot are:
- evaluate the robustness of iBeacon and apps technologies inside buildings and in outdoor locations
- evaluate visitor appetite for the delivery of interpretation on their own devices
- evaluate new business models open to Kew using mobile engagement
Testing the technology and user experience – July and August
The pilot business case was signed off by our Executive board in July.
This was the summary of the business case:
The new mobile app for use by our visitors will be launched by the end of the year and tested over the winter. The app uses a network of iBeacons (Thirty beacons at Kew and fifteen at Wakehurst). The ibeacons technology is designed to let phones know our exact location, and deliver content, images, video or sound files that is relevant to your location that visitors will hopefully enjoy and learn from. We will test the potential of the App with visitors and from a technology perspective.
The project aims to determine whether an app which includes beacon interactions enhances the experience of visiting Kew, the types of experiences that create the best value for visitors, and the physical locations in Kew which might benefit most from beacons.
We will learn more about whether WiFi is required to support elements of the beacon experience, to stream video etc. We’ll be getting user feedback about phone battery life and beacon battery life, and be testing the cloud based contentful platform used to update content.
As the leaves start to fall | implementing bark trail for Wakehurst – September 2014
A Kew app for the first time will have a channel for Wakehurst. This is a real positive and I have been able to work with Astrid Krumins who is part of the family interpretation team. The beacon network at Wakehurst is made up of a brilliant bark trail designed by Astrid that introduces you to nine different North american trees. At each tree you will meet, uncover, discover and be challenged.
Four pics showing just four of the trees on the tour:
Top left Giant Sequoia
Top right Pacific Madrone
Bottom left Pignut Hickory
Bottom right Sweetgum
Testing, testing and more testing | October 2014
With any project linked to technology there are many hurdles to overcome before you can progress. Setting up the beacons, testing their signal strengths, their ranges and, yes, worrying about squirrels—all have been part of the daily challenges.
I hope to provide more insights into the testing for this project as the pilot progresses. Testing the screens and interactions in the content management system and uploading the content and correct images takes time, effort and a lot of careful thought
The end in sight | November 2014
In a nutshell: iteration after iteration—everything from beacon placement and ranges to content management debugging, culminating in the app store submission in the December.
The pilot will rely upon our 100 strong volunteer network engaging with people as they enter Kew or go on one of the many tours put on throughout the day. The app acts as a virtual tour, alerting you to information relevant to your location; steady daily downloads will ensure the aims and objectives of the pilot can be assessed. If successful, a second phase of development ensues after procurement.
Project constants | what we learnt
A limited budget and changes internally to staffing structures meant that any piloting of beacons had be be carried out with help externally and using content from already published books, website pages, interpretation text and tours and scientific blog posts and science updates.
We will be testing delivering text, pictures, audio and video; analytics will show the appetite for these different types of media. These metrics will be important in building the business case, if the pilot phase is deemed a success internally.
The internet of things
This phrase covers off how beacons could and do fit into the wider ecosystem. When investigating the use of beacons for Kew and Wakehurst, knowing Apple and Android are investing not just money but time and resources into every operating system update aimed at enhancing beacon connectivity and the experience does help to make the case for beacons internally.
The quote below is found widely across the internet. I think it sums up everything that could be achieved with a mobile app triggered by beacons where you are able to layer science, history and engaging content to specific locations:
We’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing,’ they’re purpose-built &informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use & predictive computation.
– Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch, 5/15/14
Tracking and privacy
This article appeared in August How London Is Quietly Becoming A City Of Sensors and it shows that the reality in the future is that there will be no offline. One of the key challenges for any piloting of beacons is working out how and when to inform and interact in a sensitive way and also making sure people know what is being done with any data collected. I plan to do a post about data and interactions and go into more detail about our tutorial screens very soon to explain what Kew and dot3 did to tackle these challenges related to our iBeacon project.