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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Automated Tours Get Computerized Upgrade

Fans of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series will be well-aware of the famous guidebook of the same name, an amazing instrument which magically provides the reader with information related to exactly what they need at the moment. Now, this device is becoming a reality.

It knows where you are...
>A new electronic guide tailors information to the spot on which you’re standing.
It's the size of a postcard and has a small colour television screen with earphones snaking to a slot in the bottom. When I walk a few yards to my right... ping! A bell shrills in my ear and the screen bursts into life. A cheery voice declares, "You have walked into an interactive area." And what begins is a visitor experience like no other I've had.
What I'm experiencing is a foretaste of a semi-virtual world that, within a year, you should encounter in some of the best-known tourist centres, including the Louvre in Paris, Alcatraz in San Francisco, Edinburgh Castle and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Enter the Explorer, an innovative gadget that combines wireless technology, a global positioning system (GPS), interactivity, and a multimedia database. It's only as big as a postcard, but this little gadget may revolutionize automated tours. Up to this point we've relied on paper guidebooks and narrative cassettes which led us on a predescribed, unalterable trek. The Explorer takes touring to the next level, though.

The device is like a portable Web browser that automatically serves up information based on your exact location. It detects where you are in a designated area, such as a famous estate, with the use of GPS. When you reach the coordinates of a certain site of note -- a hotspot -- the computer shows content to enhance your experience. You don't have to go to the points in any certain order: just wander around and you'll be notified when there's something interesting about the place where you're standing. The content can include historical pictures, narration, sound effects such as a galloping army, and more. This draws you into the experience and makes it a more memorable and enjoyable one. The Explorer may become available to the public around this time next year.


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