Visitors to the historic Bristol Harbour
can now do more than cruise the docks where explorer John Cabot launched
his famous journey to the New World: They can experience life in what was once
one of Britain's busiest trading seaports, seeing and hearing the
past through immersive soundscapes, visual pointers
and historic footage.
Armed with HP iPAQs with touch
screens and a pair
of headphones, passengers aboard Bristol Ferry Boats can virtually
navigate the harbor's history delivered over a broadband wireless network.
At the heart of the experience is a system developed in HP Labs to associate
sounds and information with a particular place.
Visitors can hear a cacophonous 13th-century St. Augustine marketplace,
for instance, and then imagine themselves on a the dockside during World
War II as wailing sirens announce the Luftwaffe raid that could destroy them.
All this comes as a result of an alliance involving HP Labs, interactive multimedia
firm Node and the Bristol Ferry Boat Company under the umbrella of a unique
partnership called Mobile Bristol.
Mobile Bristol is a test bed for technology and user research
in mobility and future mobile services created by HP Labs, Bristol
University and the Appliance Studio, with support funding from
the British government.
The ferry boat project is just one of the Mobile Bristol team's
projects. HP Labs and Mobile Bristol are now launching a research
trial that recreates the Queen's Square Riot in the city in 1831,
a bloody protest which erupted after a political reform bill was
defeated in Parliament.
As part of the experience, writer/poet
Ralph Hoyte and writer/filmmaker Liz Crow collaborated on a play
based on the event. Participants in their "interactive
be connected to an HP wireless network and their movements across
the square where the riot took place will trigger a virtual re-enactment
of the dramatic events. As they walk from one part of the square
to another, they will hear the calls and cries of the rioters,
the charge of the cavalry and the warnings of the soldiers.
So far, the experiments
-- others include
a game where mIddle school students learn what it is like to be a lion
by walking around in a virtual Savannah -- have shown that "experience" is
the crucial factor underpinning research into mobile applications.
In fact, experience is increasingly the
product, says HP Labs' Jo Reid.
"By understanding the kinds
of 'experience' that are compelling, we hope to develop
new tools, services and devices that consumers and
creatives will desire and that enable them to share
and create their own new situated digital experiences," she
Reid and Richard Hull, also a Labs researcher, have worked extensively
with artists and children to craft digital experiences for mobile
In addition to the virtual Savannah project, they ran a workshop
new sense of place" that let six-to-ten-year olds create their
The workshops confirmed that children are capable of adapting
quickly to new technologies and creating novel and engaging applications.
They responded to the design challenges with creativity and enthusiasm.
HP Labs researchers are particularly interested in the social
potential of new technologies in public spaces. So they are experimenting
with café-based digital experiences.
Working with its Mobile Bristol partners and sound artist
Duncan Speakman, HP Labs created a wireless game called Schminky
for the techno-artsy clientele of Bristol's Watershed's Cafe-Bar.
The wireless network processes game invitations and sends out iPAQ
vibrations to alert users that someone wants to play.
Jukola, an interactive Jukebox, also had its world premier at
the Watershed. Votes for a favourite track were tallied across
a host of iPAQs to determine which tune the Jukola would play.
Before deciding, players could view information on the tracks
Other people in the bar voted for their favorites by punching
a public touch screen. The web-enabled Jukebox also accepted MP3s
uploaded remotely from unsigned bands and independent artists and
posted the Watershed's play list for each particular day.
All Mobile Bristol projects have a common theme -- how wireless
technology will affect the way we live and interact within our
As mobile technology becomes ever more pervasive over the next
decade, users will find themselves virtually plugged-in to an always-on
network of contextual data, with all the services, information
and experiences they need with them at all times.
HP Labs scientists think of ubiquitous computing as a new medium
-- a digital overlay of the physical world, says Phil Stenton,
director the Mobile Bristol program at HP Labs. This new dimension
will be mediated in part by a user's personal devices and in part
by the intelligent signposts, bus stops, shop fronts and other
items now populating the urban landscape.
"The purpose of Mobile Bristol is to provide an experimental
test bed for this vision," Stenton says. "We've created
a live laboratory to explore the new medium."