Earlier this year, UCLDH hosted a prize workshop where teams could pitch for £5000 worth of funding to develop a research prototype, which was supported by an award to the Grand Challenges from the UCL Annual Fund, which relies on the contributions of UCL alumni to support scholarships, research and work across UCL. Here we reveal the work of the winning team, comprising of George Neris (UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, Bartlett), Jia Liu (UCL Archaeology), and Peter Williams (UCL Information Studies), as they unveil UCL Connections…
UCL Connections project summary
University College London is a world-renowned institution across multiple academic fields. However, as is the case across Higher Education, departments often work in isolation and members of staff and students are disconnected from each other: unaware of the teams and heritage around them. Additionally, the true spirit, the everyday life and the history of UCL is often difficult to portray to the public via current media.
Recent increased availability of the internet and mobile devices provide unprecedented access to information. Companies and institutions are seeking new ways to utilise this technology and improve engagement with both internal and external stakeholders. Despite the ever-expanding pool of digital data and other assets, a physical presence must also be maintained to provide relevance to individuals without access to such digital tools. UCL currently has no tool to unite the physical, digital, resources (internal/external), and personal experience for research, social or promotional purposes.
Considering the problem outlined above, the research aimed to:
- Create new connections within and outside of UCL – linking the digital and the physical, and the internal and external;
- Champion the heritage, research and social assets of UCL by uniting the physical and digital, the public and the personal;
- Establish an innovative, interactive and attractive online system for UCL to interpret and integrate digital and physical assets.
We developed an online application and User Interface, by utilising UCL-developed software and open-license applications to create a digital map of the university campus. We chose various key physical locations to represent various aspects of the university (heritage, research, leisure etc.) to be the location of ‘connection bubbles’. For a larger project, these will be placed physically at the chosen locations, along with QR Code or similar. For the purposes of this ‘proof of concept’ project, they were situated on a 3D map of the campus which users navigate online.
We started by collecting information on the chosen ‘bubbles’ principally by desk research, although we also interviewed key players such as the Iris database manager, a researcher compiling a ‘Sustainable Living’ resources collection, a representative of UCL Marketing and UCL Volunteering. . All the collected information was organised into a hierarchical schema for uploading onto the database system. The information in the system was then visualised and synthesised with user-friendly UI design.
The final result was a 3D representation on the web of the outside views of Cloisters, the Quad and the street outside. These were superimposed onto a simple Google map. Landmark ‘connection bubbles’ were also overlaid on the map. Once clicked, these appear on a panel on the right side of the screen. Here all layers of information related to the clicked landmark can be found. Some of the landmarks, once clicked, appear directly on the screen as 3D objects (for the purpose of this Minimum Value Prototype one or two objects from the Petrie Collection were thus presented).
Users can create their own bubbles and upload them, along with relevant information web links, to the project, within predefined categories, similar to the YouTube system. The project holds the Geo co-ordinates of the bubble, its brief description and a web link to the user’s page. All other information will be contained outside the project, in the individual user pages.
We also developed a calendar, where users can see, at a glance, what is happening around UCL on a given date – with a click taking them to the individual web page of the event. We needed, of course, to develop a method for users to upload their event.
In nutshell, the system enables people to:
- Access multiple aspects of information in campus, both existing and incoming events: academic events, leisure activities, announcements, landmarks, etc.;
- Post information by creating new bubbles under customised categories(tags);
- Create future events by adding date information in the calendar;
- Add comments for popular events.
In the longer term we hope to establish physical “Totem” sign-posts across campus, indicating and providing information on points of interest. These physical landmarks will be in the form of simple tags, incorporating QR or NFC technology, and/or real totems incorporating same technology. The user, by interacting with the tags/totems through their smartphones will be getting augmented reality information about the referred objects. We also hope to develop an online augmented reality system, allowing users to assign ‘connection bubbles’ to points of interest around UCL and provide tags; comments and media on their related experiences. Regarding the calendar, we are hoping to develop a system whereby the application automatically aggregates data from various sources, primarily UCL Events Calendar.