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Escape from the Tower of London

Researchers pilot interactive media experience at historic fortress
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"We think of this as a new medium -- like a digital fourth dimension."

By Brent Gregston, Oct. 2006

The Earl of Nithsdale is due to have his head chopped off tomorrow. Can you help?

The Jacobite Nithsdale and other ghosts of the Tower of London have been brought back to life in a location-aware adventure game. HP researchers have digitally "tagged" the Tower with sounds and images using GPS coordinates. The result is a fourth – digital – dimension in which it is possible to go back in time and play escape artist.

The Tower game is a collaboration between the Mediascapes research team at HP Labs in Bristol, U.K., and staff at the Tower of London. Members of Historic Royal Palaces and HP are testing the game Oct. 23 and 28.

Nithsdale is just one of the virtual prisoners. Don't be surprised if a Bishop Flambard (imprisoned in 1100) or Father John Gerard (imprisoned in 1587) wants your help, too. You might even meet Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives, or Guy Fawkes, a conspirator behind a plot to assasinate the king in 1605.

Mediascapes


A mediascape (or scape) uses HP iPAQ handheld devices and location sensors, including GPS. Digital files containing voices, images, music and clues are placed in specific locations using the HP Labs Mediascape authoring toolkit and experienced via an iPAQ and headphones. The iPAQ accesses signals from positioning system satellites to immerse you in the location-aware adventure.

 

 

Man holding Mediascape "pinger"
Yeoman Sergeant Vic Lucas with a device used to warn players of approaching Beefeaters in the Tower of London Mediascape game, created by HP Labs.

At the Tower of London, digital files containing the prisoners' voices, images, music – and all-important clues – have been placed in specific locations using the HP Labs Mediascape authoring toolkit.As players criss-cross the Tower and its grounds, their movements trigger digital files on the iPAQ.

If you choose to help a prisoner, be prepared to use historically correct methods: unreeling ropes, bribing guards, smuggling letters and sneaking past the Yeoman Warders (the ceremonial guardians of the Tower, also known as Beefeaters). The digitally-tagged Beefeaters are part of the game. If the escape plot is detected, you will be locked up in the Tower – virtually that is.

A new medium

For HP, the interest in exploring this area of mobility is to understand the opportunities for new products and services that will emerge around the delivery of context-based experiences.

"We think of this as a new medium," says Josephine Reid, who is leading the HP Labs team, "like a digital fourth dimension. Understanding its value will enable us to go beyond the delivery of 'anything, anytime, anywhere,' to the delivery of the 'right thing at the right time and place.' "

"We are interested in exploring how new technologies can help visitors become active participants in some of the Tower's most exciting stories," comments Aileen Peirce, Exhibition Project Manager at the Tower of London. "We hope that members will enjoy playing this innovative game on the actual sites where history happened."

HP's Bristol lab envisions a wide range of applications for mediascapes and is giving away the software to create them. Mediascapes could provide all sorts of new experiences: mobile games, tours of discovery, art installations – the only constraint is the imagination.

Previous Mediascapes have included Scape the Hood, a San Francisco experiment investigating the potential for combining storytelling with location-aware mobile technologies, and Riot 1831, an interactive, location-based play for voices re-creating an infamous riot in Bristol, UK.

From school to the moon

Josephine Reid notes that, in the Tower of London game, her team is particularly interested to learn how family groups, with children aged between eight and 15 years, will use the technology and find the experience.

Using HP's Mediascape authoring toolkit, children as young as ten can create their own mediascapes, and then explore them with an iPAQ. Create-a-Scape is a project with Futurelab, a nonprofit learning company, that uses the Mediascape authoring toolkit in UK schools.

 

Mediascape tool packet
Tower of London Mediascape iPAQ in its weather-proof bag 

Alan Beecham, Secondary Strategy Consultant (ICT) at Education Bradford has used Create-A-Scape to produce a 'moonwalk' mediascape. The moonwalk is based on a map of the Alphonsus Crater, found on the Earth's moon, superimposed onto a school playing field.

Students, equipped with their HP iPAQs and two-way radios, set off to explore the 'crater' with a number of tasks to complete before their 'oxygen supplies' run out. These tasks include finding the volume of moon rocks and using a micrometer to measure a moon dust footprint. Students need to take at least one or two training sessions before they are ready to carry out their first Moonwalk mission.

"I hope the moonwalk will capture the imagination of teachers and students alike," Beecham explains, "and encourage schools to use Create-A-Scape to create their own mediascapes."

Related links

» Mediascape Web site
» Create-A-Scape

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Technical report


» Experience Design Guidelines for Creating Situated Mediascapes


     
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