Skip main navigation

Creating new customer experiences with digital technologies

Professor Andi Smart talks about using augmented reality and virtual reality to create innovative visitor experiences at cultural heritage sites.
Hello. I’m here with Professor Andi Smart from the Business School at University of Exeter, who’s going to be talking about the Vista Project. Andi, thanks for coming along. My pleasure. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and some background to the project. Yes. I work in the business school, as you said. I’ve been at the University now for about 20 years. And I’m a professor in the business school. My subject’s in operations and process management. And I run a research centre, the Centre for Simulation Analytics and Modelling. And as you said, I’m the Principal Investigator on this exciting Vista Real project. Great. So can you tell us a little bit about the background to the project? Yes.
The project probably was conceived about three years ago. The idea was to try to use some advanced analytics to help cultural heritage sites improve their business models. And really to help them innovate. We’d done some previous research in a health care environment. Where we were looking at textual feedback from patients. And then using that to really inform experience quality in the health care environment. So we took that idea and applied it to cultural heritage sites. So the initial idea was to use these analytical methods. But then we were in collaboration with a regional coordinator from Interac who funds the project. We then were merged with another project. Which was looking at virtual and augmented reality.
So bringing those two projects together, we submitted the proposal and were successful. Great. So how far have you got? What’s the current status of the project? So we’re a little over one year into the project. We’ve been working with two main development sites, Exeter Cathedral here and Fougeres castle over in France. It’s an Anglo-French collaboration. And we’re doing the development work there looking at how we can develop these different techniques, different ways of analysing. And the different ways of designing four different types of virtual and augmented reality. So we’re looking at developing headsets. Which you might have seen with the goggles that are normally used with virtual reality. Tablet based, immersive room in something we call furniture.
And furniture is really where we get a CNC model of a site. Say, for example, Fougeres Castle, and then we can augment actual battles which happened at the castle throughout history. So what do you think this will mean for museums going forward and other cultural heritage sites? What are the implications? Well, we have a wealth of cultural heritage sites and artefacts located in the region. And the same is true in France, in both Brittany and Normandy. The thing is is a lack of innovation at these sites. So, what we really want to do is to help them understand their visitor, understand the visitor experience. And then to use that sort of data to help them innovate their business models.
And that innovation, using augmented and virtual reality, to really provide exceptional visitor experiences. And hopefully, then those visitors will– one, because it’s digital we could get repeat visitors. So they could come back. And two, we’re hoping to attract additional visitors to these sites as well. Which obviously has a massive regional economic impact. OK. And are there any lessons that you’ve gathered already from the project that you will be applying in you’re teaching here at Exeter? Yeah. We’ve finally recently completed a pilot study. Where we were using eye tracking technology. And we got our students involved in that. And so we divided. In this pilot, we divided groups up into one half of the group were with an audio guide.
And the other half were with a standard leaflet. And then we were able to capture the video, real time video, of them walking around the cathedral. But particularly, watching the gaze line of their eyes. What was really interesting with that is then when we did the analysis, we could then use computer vision models to then look at heat maps. A lot of these sites, they tend to use dwell time of people in particular areas. Whereas we’ve been able now to use gaze time on particular artefacts. And what we’re hoping to do going forward is to see how that correlates maybe with measures of visitor experience. Great. OK.
And in terms of looking to the future for the students that you’re involved with, what sort of skills do you think they should be focusing on if they want to work in this kind of environment? Well, there’s two sets of things really. One is about analytical skills. So another part of the project is we’re using this text analytics that I mentioned to really understand visitor feedback. So this is using natural language, processing techniques. It’s important, I think, for students going forward because the amount of data in the data sphere is growing at such a fast rate. I think a report commissioned by Seagate was estimating that we were going to reach 163 zetabytes by 2025.
It was only half a zetabyte in 2009, to give you a sense of the scale. And a zetabyty being 1 trillion gigabytes, by the way. So it’s quite a lot of data. It’s a big number. It’s a big number. But a lot of this data in the data sphere is in natural language form from social media platforms, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it’s a key skill for students to be able to have the analytical skills in this area. I also think things like the eye tracking approach is really interesting to get different perspectives. And so, I can see them developing a whole suite of analytical skills. But also, then we’ve got things like photogrammetry.
So we can perhaps in the future get students flying drones and capturing images of different buildings or even artefacts. And they can create the 3D models for themselves. And what I want to do from the business school perspective is then to work with them to think about, well, what are the business models? What are the entrepreneurial opportunities that can be engaged in from this sort of data and these sorts of models? Great. Thank you very much. OK.

This short interview was filmed at the University of Exeter recently with Professor Andi Smart who directs the Business School’s Centre for Simulation, Analytics and Modelling.

Andi is running a major project called VISTA AR in collaboration with a number of other university and industry partners. They are exploring the use of innovative digital devices to create new visitor experiences at major tourist attractions such as Exeter Cathedral here in the UK and Fougères Castle in northern France.

The project uses advanced technologies, such as eye tracking, geospatial positioning and text analytics, to gather intelligence about how visitors engage with their surroundings. This data is combined with demographic and psychographic information to develop virtual reality helmets, tablet and smartphone devices and immersive room experiences which help to bring history to life. For example, visitors can ‘meet’ characters from the past and are able to engage with previously inaccessible heritage artefacts. You can read more about the VISTA project here.

In the video, Andi makes clear that people wanting to work in emerging fields such as augmented reality and virtual reality will need to have good analytical skills. In particular, he demonstrates that the huge volumes of data being collected (for example social media data) require natural language processing techniques in order for businesses to develop meaningful information and actions from them. There are also significant entrepreneurial opportunities for people skilled in photogrammetry techniques who can create 3D models of film shot by drones.

Think about a cultural heritage site that you are familiar with. In what ways could digital developments like those illustrated here be applied to enhance the visitor experience? How easy might it be to find people with the skills needed to undertake such a project?

This article is from the free online

Building Your Career in Tomorrow’s Workplace

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now