MSNI — Exploring the unknown

MSNI — Exploring the unknown

Introduction

MSNI was a collaborative research project funded by the ministry for education and research (BMBF). The aim of the research project was to analyze the possibilites for a regional information network for tourism. From aerial photography to semantic information processing. One focus was providing users the information they need by building smart location and context aware algorithms. The University for Applied Science received the task to create a feasibility prototype that could be deployed as an example of implementing the information infrastructure into a third party application.

Research

Cultural probes for chinese and german tourists

Cultural probes for chinese and german tourists

In the first series of experiments we looked into the behavior of tourists and locals. We tried to find out more about how they explore unknown urban environments, how they navigate, find what they need and which tools they use to accomplish this. It turned out that many people still use hand written notes, paper maps and city guides to explore a city. The most important information needed is routing: Getting from A to B; finding a restaurant; finding the next underground station…

“People exploring unknown urban environments want guidance, but they also want freedom.”

One insight we gathered, after combining cultural probes, interviews, observations and literature reviews, was the fact that people exploring unknown urban environments want guidance, but the also want freedom. A task that is difficult to achieve for a tourist application. We developed a lot of experiments to create such an ambivalent interface. Our final solution was a heatmap based visualization. The interface allowed users to explore different aspects of a city from a low zoom level and to find specific locations in higher zoom levels. To accomplish this we developed an algorithm that was able to generate heatmaps for dynamic user queries on demand and deploy those to the users mobile device.

Heatmaps for restaurants, shops, museums and bars

Heatmaps for restaurants, shops, museums and bars

In addition to the heatmaps we also experimented with different types of maps to improve navigation. Combining 2d maps, aerial photography, 3d visualizations as well as oblique photography. The idea behind the variety of maps is to provide users the ideal geographic visualization for every possible situation.

3D maps by 3D Reality maps, Aerial and Oblique photography by BSF Swissphoto and 2D Maps by Tilemill/Mapbox

3D maps by 3D Reality maps, Aerial and Oblique photography by BSF Swissphoto and 2D Maps by Tilemill/Mapbox

Those two interface elements and many more were then finally combined in a feasibility prototype, connected to the semantic information network developed by the other collaborators.

Prototyping

The prototype was build in HTML and JavaScript with the Sencha Touch library. Using Phonegap we were able not only to deploy it as responsive applications to Android and iOS but also to include offline maps for better navigation experiences.

Project partners & funding

The project was funded as a “Wachstumskern Potentzial” by the ministry for education and research (BMBF).