Augmented reality (AR) may be the most important tool for the travel industry since internet. In 2017 the acting Finnish government, led by prime minister Juha Sipilä, launched a key project called BLUE. The main goal of BLUE was to make Finland a leader in AR and VR tourism. As part of BLUE Haaga-Helia generated multiple AR proofs-of-concept for the needs of the water-based tourism scene in Finland.
Movie magic made reality
Augmented reality has been alive and well in popular culture for decades. The classic movie series Terminator provides a great look at the possibilities of AR technology.
In the movie a cyborg gets visual real-time information of the surrounding world projected to a screen. The same basic concept is now being utilized in mobile devices, for example in apps like the popular AR game Pokémon Go.
Tourism is one of the industries that is forecasted to benefit the most from AR technology. Many experiences can be enhanced greatly with AR.
Imagine the following: On a sightseeing cruise from Helsinki to Porvoo, a tour guide mentions that the ship is passing the home island of the creator of Moomins, Tove Jansson. When pointing your mobile device towards said island, you see Tove herself sitting ashore.
This is essentially what BLUE was all about. Haaga-Helia and a group of higher education providers across Europe were set on a mission to create 6-12 AR concepts in three of Finland’s main hubs for water-based tourism. Local tourism service providers and AR software developers were brought together to create innovative products ready to be used in the Finnish Lakeland and the scenic archipelagos of Turku and Helsinki.
Bringing the key players together
Finland is full of know-how and innovators. The problem is dispersity. While Finland is a small nation of only 5,5 million citizens, the tourism industry is regionally divided. The local companies in Lakeland, Turku and Helsinki are mostly not connected. The same can be said for augmented reality developers, the other key players of BLUE. In addition, the local AR companies and tourism companies were also not familiar with each other.
BLUE started mapping out the local providers in each of the target regions by innovativeness in tourism and good reputation in software. The third section of BLUE was open data. When local open data providers were brought to the same table the real work was ready to begin.
The aim of bringing the different sections of business and expertise together was to find ideas that benefitted all the participants – boosting tourism, AR software business and open data services simultaneously.
The project in Suomenlinna, an old fortress island in the Helsinki Archipelago, acts as a great example of varied know-how being used. In the concept Field Marshal Augustin Ehrensvärd tells hidden stories about various buildings and other sights on the island. The stories are brought to life in a multilangual audio guide app called Glopas, created in Finland, which is widely used in towns and tourism spots around the country. Glopas uses open-source GPS data and Google maps to create experiences. The AR technology was created in collaboration with the Finnish technical research centre VTT.
A network ready for the future
Around 160 companies working in tourism and AR participated in the BLUE project. As mentioned before the project, people working in tourism and AR were not connected in any way. Now there is a blooming network of enthusiasts with shared interest in bringing AR technology to the field of tourism.
Finland has all the necessary elements, and knowhow to be a frontrunner of AR solutions in tourism. BLUE brought the right group of people together, which acts as a strong starting signal for a whole new industry.
The six proof-of-concepts were developed in collaboration with Haaga-Helia students. The students mainly participated in the AR prototyping phase of the project. Prototyping and development of the projects was largely service design based. During the development phase customers and service providers were able to test the concepts themselves and provide feedback that was used for the final proof-of-concepts.
To summarize, BLUE is a strong example of Finnish expertise in software, tourism and design. The benefits of AR in tourism are visible in the results. In the future, similar concepts can bring excitement and liveliness to tourism hot spots around the world.
Project name: BLUE
Research area: Emerging technologies
Duration: 1.9.2017 – 15.2.2020
Funding: Ministry of agriculture and forestry
Contact person: Head of RDI, Teemu Moilanen (firstname.lastname@example.org)