So, You Want to Create a Modern Tour? Part 2

Jake Young

Visitor attractions and tours, whether they be national museums, mind-bending experiences or TV/Film tours have been victim of using technology that is out of date by today’s standards. There are so many entertaining and engaging solutions that can be integrated into new and existing attractions.

A modern visitor attraction may look like a physical space that consists of a connected digital layer that enables one area to affect another and vice versa; even allowing guests to interact with each other remotely across the space.

We started to build the next generation of visitor attractions and have no plans to stop! Our creative and technical teams have the capability to deliver unique experiences for every visitor, while also giving these tours manoeuvrability for the future. In the second part of my blog, I’m going to share some more on the technology behind the tour.

More about our experience as tour guide developers

Hamilton Robson (HR) is a technology company, specialising in integrated, immersive solutions.

We had the expertise in house to deliver all AV and experiential solutions which is why Game of Thrones Studio Tour trusted us to deliver for their brand-new visitor attraction in Northern Ireland.

Our AV capability worked with the customer to develop their immersive 110,000 square foot experience. The experience includes 25 themed areas, embellished with bespoke video and audio content and interactives, including spectacular walled projections, bow and arrow game and an incredible take on the Throne Room.

The software capability, the team in which I’m based, delivered an innovative tourist app for the Studio Tour, while also consulting on the various interactive exhibits hosted at the tour itself. The app was developed with Area Tracking and AR which gave the app and any guest’s phone the ability to interact with the tour space seamlessly.

The tech behind the Tour

Area Tracking

The Studio Tour app offers area tracking from within the tour space and helps guide you to the correct part of the Audio Tour that’s related to the content at your location. With this functionality we can also trigger the AR experiences when the guest arrives to help reduce confusion of when or how to activate it.

Beacons which represent specific points in a space are commonly used in warehouse environments where many items and people need tracked within the space. We have yet to see this technology used effectively in immersive environments. Therefore, we were excited to have the opportunity to deliver an app that took advantage of the technology.

Knowing from the beginning that we were going to use beacons we were able to design the app with that in mind from the ground up. We wanted the app to understand the context of the physical tour space and provide that feedback to the guest to put the control back in their hands.

Augmented Reality (AR)

With a highly detailed space and so much content to work with, we had a great opportunity to add a lot through AR. By doing so we could create more depth and interactivity to the content that the guests came to see.

Using props in the space we were able to give greater detail to scenes recreated from the series, creating more immersion for the guest.

We delivered a similar experience with Our Place In Space.

The Hardware

You may be asking what hardware we used to deliver an experience like this.

First, we wanted the app to be public. Anyone should be able to download it to their device and load their own tour ticket and details. While the app’s primary function was to deliver a premium audio tour to guests, it needed to become central to the Game of Thrones experience found here in Northern Ireland.

An optional rental device was a way to remain inclusive of those who arrived without a smartphone or simply didn’t want to use their own devices.

The dedicated device must:

  • Run AR experiences with little to no performance issues
  • Have a good battery life
  • Be charged quickly for quick turn-arounds

We also needed to source Beacons that could be placed around the tour, allowing guests to way-find within the Tour and enable location-aware content.

Finding the right hardware for the Beacons proved more difficult than we thought. The main thing that we were looking for in the Beacons was the ability to change their metadata and range remotely. This allowed us to deploy content and wayfinding changes quickly as they continued to iterate and develop the experience.

Next Generation Location-Aware Content

We’re always keeping an eye on the potential of new, and even older, technologies and how they could create an opportunity to deliver something unique. Our focus on R&D while we work simultaneously on our customers projects allows us to remain dynamic and move quickly on technologies that would greatly improve the quality of our delivery for our customers.

When we talk about Beacons, we specifically are talking about Bluetooth Beacons. They have been around for a while, but not used very often except in niche use cases like for visitor attractions.

A new technology we are excited about, developing on the intent and use of Bluetooth beacons further is Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB) beacons – a technology that has recently been adopted by Apple and Samsung delivered through the AirTags and Galaxy SmartTag respectively. With this exciting new push, the tools and libraries available will start to grow and we’ll be able to take full advantage of them.

Adding another dimension to your experience with Augmented Reality

Game of Thrones Studio Tour was an amazing opportunity to work with an IP that had endless amounts of content to work with. The level of detail that was implemented into the space was stunning and that was carried through in every aspect of the experience. We knew that we wanted to inject AR into the tour somewhere. Finding the golden opportunities was difficult since it felt like every opportunity was golden.


Finding the right hardware

We spent almost an entire year trying to find the right hardware that meets all the criteria mentioned above. I want to reinforce the importance of finding the right hardware. It might seem obvious but when you have fixed hardware that you can rely on, it solves a lot of worries. You know what you’re working with.

When you throw into the mix that you need a mobile device that can survive from 9 – 5 with roughly ~500 repeated uses for 2–3 hour stretches of listening to audio and using AR, that did not make it easy.

How to gamify an Audio Tour

We had an opportunity to create a highly engaging experience with the Studio Tour app and its novel integration of Beacons and AR.

The area tracking in the app works well. There were lessons learned which I will go into here and one feature which we would advise against and avoid doing in the future.

Knowing that we had the fidelity for each guest to track their progress on their own device or rental phone, we wanted to keep the guest informed of their location at all times.

Every screen in the app that has a direct connection to the Digital Guide has a message along the top that keeps the guest informed of their current location. When they move to a new area the app will inform them of their movement into a new area. When inside the app the location component will update respectively, but also the app will send a local notification to the device to create an extra level of awareness for the guests.

This also had another role in acting as a redirect to the Studio Map, focusing on the area that you are currently in. From here you could navigate to the correct playlist for that area or activate the relevant AR for the area you are in. While these may seem like obvious opportunities to take advantage of this, they are valuable in connecting the guests to the tour space.

Where we wanted to experiment is in delivering the premium audio tour. We thought; “Can we create a sense of reward for exploring the space with the Digital Guide app?”. We did this by unlocking audio content as the guest explores the space.

We knew that this would create a sense of accomplishment for the guest as they explored. From the perspective of the app, the first playlist would be unlocked to allow them to make a start. Every subsequent area that the guest walks into would inform the app and then the app would unlock the necessary content.

Thank You

Thank you to all those involved at the Studio Tour, it was a pleasure to deliver this experience for guests with you! The tour has to be seen to be believed – so if you haven’t been, download the app today and get your ticket!

For the first part of this blog series, read it here.

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