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Indoor nav & a week at the Barbican

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A question I am always being asked when I talk about Invisible Buildings is “can I play it indoors?” The answer is an emphatic no – our system makes use of GPS which only works outdoors. In fact, one of the virtues of our product is that it does takes place outdoors, at a time when children spend more and more of their lives indoors.

Even so, I have always been excited by the possibility of indoor navigation, watching as various systems have been proposed. There are a few new techniques now, and one of the (initially) most promising makes use of a device from Apple (although almost open-source) called an iBeacon. Using Bluetooth standards, these coin-sized devices send periodic messages which contain a unique id and an indication of the strength of the transmitted signal. So in principle by measuring the received signal from 3 or more differently positioned beacons, one should be able to triangulate ones position (this is how GPS works too). Sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately you are right. Whilst you can be pretty sure of where you are when you are right next to a single beacon (and this is predominantly what people are using them for (e.g. near specific products in shops, or at a certain table in a cafe), various factors (most predominantly, the laws of physics) conspire to give you a rather hazy notion of your position if you should be foolish enough to triangulate (or even trilaterate).

However all is not lost, and I have been at the Barbican working on a project to help track audience and players as part of a potential future production. In particular we have been exploring some interesting ways we can “cheat” and get some pretty accurate locational info. The whole project is really interesting because it has potential not just in theatre but in games (in fact in what we are doing, we are blurring the lines between games and theatre – exciting), tracking, controlling, entertaining and informing audiences in arts venues, museums, and historic sites. More on this in the coming weeks.

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