Tourism gets a boost from augmented reality

iTacitus uses global positioning technology, image recognition software, and user preferences to give travelers a planning and learning tool – all on their mobile device. Named after Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, the application was conceived to provide more enjoyment of cultural sightseeing.

Pubius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, Roman historian - picture credit: WikipediaAugmented reality (AR) content stored on a central server is served up to the user who snaps a photo of the historical or cultural site. Luke Speller is a senior researcher in the United Kingdom at BMT who oversaw development of the technology. He says that visitors "are even able to visualize, in real time, how [places] looked at different stages in history." For example, as the project progressed from September 2006 through its completion in July 2009, trials were conducted at the Great Hall in Winchester, Hampshire, UK which allowed visitors to see King Arthur and his knights at the round table. The second test site was Torino, Italy.

The iTacitus application includes itinerary planning software based on a traveler?s stated interests, be it modern art or Greek history. It lists places to visit that meet the visitor?s criteria, helps them schedule where to go, and how to get there.

When on site, the central server downloads appropriate AR content relative to the museum display, building, or famous location. There are several aspects to the program. Superimposed environments overlay 3D objects on the actual scene photographed by the user; you can see gladiators fill the Roman Coliseum. Annotated landscapes show images, text, or run videos about what the mobile device is pointed at, and spatial acoustic overlays put audio clips into the scene.

iTacitus in action in front of WestminsterThe iPhone and other smartphones are proving more successful than the original handhelds used in the first trials. The project is moving forward, creating location-aware applications for the iPhone as well as for Google?s Android devices. Their plan is to give the software away, but to charge guide-book pricing for location-specific content.

The developers, BMT Group Ltd, a British engineering consultancy and Fraunhofer IGD, a German Research Institute, are expecting tourist locations to generate the AR content relative to their offerings, not only to enhance their visitors? experience, but as a marketing tool.

By being GPS aware, as the user travels around, iTacitus uses contextual filtering based on where you are, your stated interests, and your history to call your attention to select information via your mobile device.