Parks Canada trials multimedia GPS handhelds

Hikers can get a taste of technology on the trails at two Parks Canada sites this summer when they try out GPS-enabled PDAs aimed at enhancing their learning and overall experience. These new handheld, called Explora, are being piloted at Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada, in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada, in Nova Scotia.

As visitors hike with Explora they will be able to see their location on a map and interact with location-related text, images, sound, video and quizzes. “I’m very excited about the potential that the application of GPS technology brings to visitors of Canada’s national parks and national historic sites,” said Alan Latourelle, Parks Canada’s Chief Executive Officer.

Parks Canada trials multimedia GPS handhelds
The Explora hardware is a Mio P360 Pocket PC handheld and the software has been developed by a French company, Camineo, which specializes in outdoor GPS-enabled multimedia experiences. “The project started in February with Camineo”, said Tamara Tarasoff, National Products Specialist in the New Media and Exhibitions Direction at Parks Canada. “There are two main reasons why Camineo won the competition” she explained. “First, they had proven track records in developing such project. Second they are offering a platform that works with off the shelves devices. We did not want to be locked into one single platform”.

A trial to understand visitors needs and interests
For this trial Parks Canada has deployed 12 devices on each site. The experience is available on three trails from 2 to 3.5 kilometers long. The multimedia guide is both made of automatic, location-triggered items and other contents that require the user to interact with the device. “Therefore, both multimedia savvy and more passive visitors will enjoy the content”, added Tamara Tarasoff.

The project will be wrapped up in September through a social science research project, focus groups and in-depth interviews. Additionally, the software itself records how people interact with the device, allowing for in-depth understanding of its use. Depending on the outcome of this assessment, Parks Canada will define how to use such devices in the future.

Parks Canada trials multimedia GPS handhelds
The developer of the software, Camineo, started its activities in the summer of 2005, born from a research project on location-based services in national parks subsidized by the European Union.

The first guide was developed for the Park of Mercantour in southeastern France three years ago. In this park GPS-devices are for rent to enjoy multimedia information and discover natural species along hikes. In the Mercantour Camineo’s guides are available at 14 rental locations (hotels, camp sites, etc) and cost €5 per day.

In 2007 Camineo has deployed its technology in ten different sites with 10 to 30 devices each in several European countries. The company made a turn-over of €180,000 in 2007 with 8 employees. “We expect to double our revenue in 2008 in deploying our technology at around 20 locations”, said Christophe Rhin, President at Camineo.

Monday, July 21st 2008

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