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GeoGarden

Telling the story of the rocks displayed in the Geology Garden at the University of Worcester in the UK

Below a drone view (provided by Attwood Media) of the Geology Garden at the St John’s Campus of the University of Worcester. The aim of the app was to inform the user about the origin of each of these rocks, by either selecting them in an image of the garden, or by approaching the rocks in the garden.

Drone view of the Geology Garden at the University of Worcester
iBeacon - exterior housing and housing opened to reveal PCB.

iBeacons

To trigger for the app to provide information, as the user approached a given rock, iBeacons were deployed, one located close to each rock. (Note: ‘iBeacon’ is strictly the name of an Apple communication protocol used between IOS devices and beacons).

The picture opposite is an Estimote Beacon (about 5cm long). The lower picture is the Beacon cut open to reveal the circuit board with a number of chips. Each beacon contains a very low power radio transmitter which periodically transmits a code unique to that beacon. An app configured to work with the beacons detects that signal, along with any other from nearby beacons, and determines the beacon, if any, of closest proximity. The app can then launch content to be associated with the beacon ‘drawing attention to itself’.

For the GeoGarden app, the idea, aimed at groups of primary school children visiting the garden, was for the rock to ‘come to life’ with it’s story delivered via audio with synchronised visuals, as individuals passed close to a given rock.

It worked well (with minimal false triggers) on Apple devices, but it was not very reliable on Android – but then iBeacon is an Apple protocol. Android had its own called ‘Eddystone’ but was withdrawn in 2017.

The Beacons have a battery, with a life at best of 4 years. The battery can be changed by cutting open the enclosure, as shown opposite. An added complication for the Beacons in the Geology Garden are their housing in watertight containers secreted near the rocks. As a result batteries have not always been renewed.

That issue, combined, with poor Android performance, has led to recent versions of the GeoGarden app relying only on users selecting the rocks by touching the view of the rocks in the garden provided in the app.

Beacons can provide great user experiences, for example, in a museum setting where beacons are out of the weather and be easily attached to surfaces and serviced.

Telling the rocks stories

With a given rock selected, the ‘story’ is told using an audio narrative, accompaned by graphics synchronised with the audio.

Story for the big rock at the centre of the garden

As GeoGarden may be used by people with a wide age range and varying experience of geology, the content can be set to:
Young geologist
Curious visitor or
Geologist

Below, two examples of the graphics that are used in conjuction with the audio narratives.

Other content in the GeoGarden app

Location of one of the quarries of the rocks in the GeoGarden

Interactive 3D views of Earth showing what is believed to be the geography at the time of the formation of each of the rocks in the garden.

Below, map of St John’s Campus, site of  the Geology Garden, which is highlighted by an animation. On site the app shows your location within the campus.

Map of St John's Campus University of Worcester

 

The Map option in the apps menu opens a map (with the option of a satelite image view) with pins showing the location of the quarries that provided the rocks the Geology Garden.

The icon for the app is based on the forests of Lepidodendron trees of the Carboniferous times.

Icon for GeoGarden app

The GeoGarden app was produced in partnership with the University of Worcester and the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust in 2016.