Industry Spotlight: Location Aware Apps in the Heritage Industry

By: Bradley White | Published: December 22, 2017
As mobile technology becomes ever more futuristic, so does the ability to bring the past to life in interesting and engaging ways. A prime example of this are location aware apps  in the heritage industry and how they are being used to offer a more interactive experience for visitors to museums and historical sites across the UK and the rest of the world.

Audio Guides

One of the more creative uses of location tracking technology is to add a new dimension to audio tours around heritage sites. Where visitors previously had to actively select the audio they wanted to hear, location based services can be used to pinpoint the user’s exact position in a museum or on a historical site and then play the appropriate audio clip. An excellent example of this is the National Trust’s Soho Stories app intended to give users a look into the rich and seedy history of the infamous Soho district of London. All a user needs to do is plug in some headphones and explore the area. Their location in Soho will be tracked by GPS and depending on where they are, a relevant story will be played.

Getting Your Bearings

Location tracking technology can also be incredibly useful for navigation around sites. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in the maze-like corridors of a large museum or sprawling estate, so being able to pinpointing your position can make finding your way to a particular exhibit a piece of cake. More often than not, this location pinpointing is done through the use of Bluetooth beacons dotted around the site that are constantly emitting a signal that visitor’s phones are able to pick up. Museum Heritage Location

Beyond Navigation

However, installing Bluetooth beacons opens up a whole host of opportunities for heritage sites beyond just navigation, such as the ability to send visitors push notifications depending on where they are on the site. For example, the National Slate Museum in Wales has installed beacons across their site meaning that when visitors are using their ‘culture beacon’ app, they will be shown relevant content whenever they’re near a point of interest. In April, New Museum in New York used Bluetooth beacons in particularly unique way to raise awareness for landmines for the UN’s International Mine Awareness Day. Visitors to the museum were encouraged to download the Sweeper app while beacons around the museum created a virtual minefield. Whenever an unwitting visitor wandered too close to a beacon they would set off the ‘mine’ resulting in a loud, jarring explosion sound in their headphones followed by an audio testimony of someone’s actual experience with landmines. Aside from improving the experience while at the site, location aware apps can be used to get visitors to the site in the first place. A common way of doing this is through a ‘Sites Near Me’ feature in their apps. Both the English Heritage Days Out app and the National Trust app include such a feature to make it easy for users to find nearby sites and plan days out by pinpointing their current location using GPS and displaying their nearest sites.

Bringing the Past to Life

By adopting location aware apps, heritage sites have been able to integrate cutting edge technology in a way that doesn’t detract from the experience of visiting a site but only enhances it. While there are some more obvious and practical uses for the technology in the heritage industry – such as navigation – plenty of sites are finding innovative ways of using location tracking technology to bring the past to life. See how location based services can add a new dimension to your app by contacting BMDI today and we’ll help you find relevant use cases for the technology in your industry.