As museums return to pre-pandemic attendance rates, refreshing user experience with technology can help attract visitors. We built a smartphone app that uses ultra-wideband (UWB) chips to receive precise contextual information on exhibits at set points.
Ever wandered into a museum only to be inundated with the amount of knowledge? Easy navigation through information is key to a coherent narrative that helps visitors consume content. UWB Art Guide aims to improve indoor navigation, giving museums a differentiator that can encourage visits and knowledge retention.
What Is UWB?
UWB is a wireless radio communication protocol that works in the 3.1 to 10.6 GHz band, with several 500 MHz bandwidths. UWB works outside of the “packed” 2.4 GHz band (crowded by BLE, bluetooth). UWB enables data sharing and helps locate devices with centimeter precision.
UWB chips started being installed on smartphones in 2019, with Apple spearheading the trend. Google, Samsung, and Xiaomi came to the game almost a year later. But official SDKs from Apple and Android that let smartphone manufacturers create solutions using UWB technology were not released until quite recently.
UWB is often compared to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But the two technologies are different:
Why Is UWB Technology Important?
While Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has revolutionized the interaction between the user and the environment, UWB takes this interaction a step further, opening up new opportunities.
Use cases for UWB include home, industrial, retail, and mobility solutions. Source: FiRa
All these use cases can create a number of business opportunities, with new approaches to user experience.
Building the UWB Art Guide
The opportunities to explore with UWB are exciting, but when experimenting with new technology, skepticism helps keep the necessary perspective to evaluate it thoroughly.
The key is to divide the plan into stages, but reserve time for unforeseen challenges and some creative problem-solving along the way. That said, the UWB project was divided into three stages:
Stage 1 — Analysis
We browsed the market for available solutions. Next, we bought the UWB Dev Kit and tested the technology’s limits and possibilities.
Stage 2 — Workshops
We collected the knowledge from stage one and ran workshops aimed at bringing to light a problem that our UWB prototype could solve.
After intense workshops, we settled on three ideas:
- People localizer in crowded spaces.
- Indoor navigation with UWB.
- Mobile pocket guide for museums and exhibitions.
The last idea seemed the most fitting for our prototype. After all, we’re all too familiar with poor quality audio guides available at museums, or outdated apps that refuse to work with modern phones. Using UWB in museum guides can revive the market and improve user experience.
Stage 3 — Development
The problem and idea worked out during workshops was the foundation for the development of the prototype.
UwB Tech Cases
Touchless entry validation
With its precision and resilience to interference, UWB technology can be used to streamline validation of tickets, ID, access control (for buildings and cars).
UWB-enabled solutions simplify tracking. Reliable connection can be used to locate assets in motion or items in a warehouse.
UWB beacons can support marketing activities and loyalty campaigns by pushing relevant notifications during shopping.
Touchless payments enabled by UWB are key for seamless transactions in checkout-free stores, curbside deliveries, or other custom payment user preferences.
UWB Art Guide
The Android-based prototype locates UWB anchors in real-time. The app receives a notification that informs the user they entered an exhibit’s space. A detailed description with images or audio pop up in the app.
How It Works in Details
The first-launch onboarding process takes the user through key features. The mobile app’s design is intuitive and fun to use to encourage usage and content consumption.
Displaying maps, exhibits list, and favorites
The app features a fully touch-enabled 2D floor plan with:
- Pins for exhibits and their range (the area that triggers a notification)
- Favorite exhibits
- A scrollable horizontal list with exhibits
Accessing exhibit details
- After tapping the pin or the exhibit on the list, the details screen pops up.
- The details screen features a description and a picture. You can add the exhibit to favorites.
- If an exhibit features an audio file, an interactive player will appear that lets you play the audio.
To use the app’s precise location feature for exhibit notifications, you have to connect to UWB. The app guides you through the simple connectivity process.
Exhibit locating using the app
After connecting, the app shows your location. The exhibits list shows the distances to exhibits.
When you enter an exhibit’s range, you’ll receive a notification.
The admin panel built in AirTable helps manage exhibit data that views in the app.
Challenges with UWB Implementation
- Real-time locating through UWB ranging on a smartphone isn’t optimal. While it’s technically viable, it doesn’t work well and drains the battery fast.
- UWB is very power demanding.
- UWB works best when used for a single ranging/measurement, e.g., locating a static object.
- We also experienced some stability issues.
- There’s an underperformance risk in crowds. Mainly, the UWB signal that goes through a person can affect the distance measurement.
- Currently, there’s a relative shortage of Android devices with UWB chips.
- Commercial UWB beacons are still in early stages of development (e.g., Estimote hasn’t yet published an Android SDK).