As part of the celebrations of Capability Brown’s work, the National Trust has piloted the use of new technology to provide information to visitors in the grounds of Petworth House.
As part of the celebrations of Capability Brown’s work, the National Trust has piloted the use of new technology to provide information to visitors in the grounds of Petworth House. What is particularly newsworthy is the use of battery-powered wifi hotspots, Infopoints and NFC stations placed into the landscape as the means to do so.
Infopoints enable the delivery of large files quickly to mobile phones or tablets without needing to consume the user’s data download allowance, a 3G connection or special apps. In the case of Petworth these files include animations, videos, digital reconstructions and scenes which can be ‘rubbed away’ to reveal the past. Once the user has connected to this local wifi, in the same way they would at a cafe, opened their browser and typed in an IP address then the full range of content, suited to that location, is available.
Infopoints have some limitations. They need about 25W to run, although this can be provided by solar panels. The licensed range for the wifi is approximately 150m so on a large site several Infopoints might be required to be secreted unobtrusively. If sited too close to each other then the connection with the previous Infopoint that was encountered can be too tenacious to allow connection with the latest one. Security does not appear to be a problem at Petworth but would naturally need risk management.
Infopoints would be an affordable way to enable digital information delivery where there is no mobile signal at all. They also avoid the use of apps and the need for GPS if that is desired. Some of their limitations can be mitigated by the supplementary use of NFC locations, which can offer Android users additional information more cheaply at many points by the swipe of the device.
Of course, the medium is one thing but visitors need to want to engage with content. The ability to interpret the landscape to visitors has long been an important skill area for some landscape and countryside professionals. There is some guidance on this from the Association for Heritage Interpretation and in back copies of Centre for Environmental Interpretation publications. Many of the principles and skills for good environmental interpretation, though, are shared with journalism and educational practice.
The thought that came to me, when visiting Petworth, was a different application of this technology. Would it be realistic to embed the designer’s intentions and landscape management and maintenance advice on sites using NFC-placards? Even better if it was coupled to smart sensors that could beam out “Please water me now!”
If any reader is inspired to correspond or write some guidance on any of these topics please .
Head of Technical and Professional Services