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Trip Report - Glasgow 7/8th March 2001

Visit by Cliff Randell to The Lighthouse and Glasgow University.


Purpose of Trip:

  • to survey the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre (the "Mack Room") at the Lighthouse to assess suitability for indoor location sensing systems and to propose potential applications for Bristol's CyberJacket and Lens;
  • to meet with Department of Computer Science staff associated with Equator, and to begin familiarisation with their software systems and interests;
  • to gather background information on C.R. Mackintosh.

Context: Equator - The City/Mack Project

Key contacts and Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lynn Bennet (Lighthouse), Areti Galani, Philip Gray and Stephen Brewster (University) for their time and helpful contributions. Special thanks to Lynn for the drawings, booklet and CDRoms.

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fig 1 - the Lighthouse


This report is divided into three main sections :-

I have also included as an Appendix some of the potentially useful information gathered during the trip.


1)  The Lighthouse

We are considering three areas at the Lighthouse which may be suitable for our initial trials. These are the Mack Room; the top of the Lighthouse tower; and the entrance lane to the Lighthouse. This report has suggestions for the first two of these - the lane presents many challenges and requires further separate consideration.   

The Mack Room is split into two distinct areas either side of a glass screen, which itself displays a timeline of Macintosh's work.

The Interpretative Section on the inner side of the screen has two themes - narratives looking at specific aspects of the work, and detailed studies of four key buildings. The narratives address Architecture & Interiors; Furniture & Design; Prints & Drawings; and accompanying themes - Glasgow, contemporaries and 'Words'. The selected key buildings are the Glasgow School of Art[1], the Hill House, the Willow Tearoom[2] and Derngate.

The room contains some 19 display screens - 9 showing videos, 9 interactive computer screens, and the output from a remotely controlled camera on the roof. There is a single loudspeaker, of varying volume, which provides a soundtrack to one of the videos. There is an impressive amount of visual information available on the computer/video screens.

Our original scenario envisaged a system which has two main functions:

  • to recommend places/items of interest, and provide references, to the user based on the user's current context/position and personal profile, and on the 'trails' of other users with similar profiles; and
  • to deliver timely and relevant images, audio commentary and textual descriptions.


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The Mack Room is ideal to test the first of these functions. It is easy to miss items of particular interest in this room - partly because the narrative and architectural sections are interspersed, and partly because much of the detailed information is only available by browsing on the various screens. A recommender system would be of great benefit to a visitor, particularly if it was augmented by location and heading data. Consideration needs to be given as to whether this should be an audio or visual system.

The richness of visual information minimises the need for further images and text. However we were impressed by the need to provide additional stimulus for the visitor using audio and possibly tactile devices. This would be of special benefit to the visually impaired.

A full audio guide would provide commentaries tailored to the user's age, nationality and interest profile, current location and heading indicating field of interest/screen in view; and background ambience  recreating the atmosphere appropriate to the exhibit being viewed e.g. Miss Cranston's Willow tearooms, or a life class at the School of Art. Recorded visitor's impressions at buildings of interest would add further richness to the potential soundscape which could be created. The guide could be accessed through headphones connected to a handheld device, the CyberJacket or could be created using spatial audio in the room (ref. Steve).

An audio guide may require a large investment in time and effort to collect suitable material, but would provide the Mack Room with a valuable additional resource.



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figs 2.a-d views of the Mack Room

At the top of the Lighthouse Tower there is a superb panoramic view[4]. However it is difficult for the visitor to Glasgow to identify buildings of particular interest. This presents an ideal opportunity to prototype an application for the Lens with it's text/image display and electronic compass features. Using GPS location sensing the application could be extended to provide a viewer for the gallery on the roof of the School of Art, or for the new tower in the Science Park.       

2)  Location Sensing Systems

Three technologies - ultrasonic, infra-red and R.F. 'Pingers' are considered.

Firstly, ultrasonics. The Mack Room presents several challenges - size, false ceilings & walls, and lack of a ceiling infrastructure.

To obtain accurate (within 10cm 95% of the time) location sensing in a room 10m x 20m using the Bristol system would require ~32 transmitter modules mounted on the ceiling. This system has not been deployed on this scale before and would have the immediate disadvantage of a refresh rate of ~5secs. The A.T.& T. system using a 1.2m grid would require ~128 receiver modules on the ceiling with a refresh rate dependant on the number of users in the room. Both systems would be subject to errors caused by the glass wall and the false ceilings over the main exhibits.

We have three further options:

  1. carry out a minimal installation giving high accuracy coverage over a selected 6mx6m area e.g.'A'.
  2. carry out a minimal installation giving low accuracy coverage over a selected 10mx10m area e.g.'B'.
  3. identify ~6 zones within the room. The sensing system, using a single ultrasonic transmitter for each zone, would determine which zone the user is in - but NOT their precise location. The use of heading data would assist in determining the user's field of interest.

Infrared beacons have been adopted by H-P's Cooltown project and could provide a form of location sensing. If every exhibit in the Mack Room was to have a beacon attached, and the users were to wear a matching receiver, it could be possible to both track their movements and to provide location based information to the users.

A rough count indicates that in the order of 100 beacons would be required.


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fig. 3 The Mack Room

The ceiling of the Mack Room has a smooth finish, painted white (see fig 4). Smoke detectors (fig 5a) have been prominently installed however care has been taken to minimise the visual impact of the sprinkler system with it's concealed outlets (fig 5b).

Ceiling lighting has been kept to a tasteful minimum. There exists little opportunity to install a significant number of further devices on the ceiling without harming the aesthetic effect. It may be possible, however, to attach ultrasonic transmitters to the sprinkler covers without affecting their operation.

We also need to consider the implications of providing wiring to the ceiling mounted modules - or carry out detailed research into wireless solutions.

A R.F. Pinger solution could obviate the need to install hardware on the ceiling. A simple one byte pinger using an A.M. Tx could be hidden within the existing displays minimising the impact on the room. Disadvantages would include a poor refresh rate (to reduce collisions) e.g. once every 3secs; variable range due to the vagaries of R.F. propagation; and susceptibility to errors[3] . These pingers would have to be carefully located and are unlikely to give the equivalent performance to an ultrasonic zoning system. Further research into this option is underway.


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fig. 4 Mack Room ceiling

While further thought, and discussion, is needed on the accuracy and coverage required for our purposes, and on considerations for the physical treatment of the room, my recommendation is that we investigate further the multiple zoning option described in 3) above. In addition, if a zoning option is considered appropriate, we ought also to explore further the possibilities of using the minimal R.F. Pingers.

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figs 5a & b - Smoke head, and Sprinkler cover.

[3] Our current Pinger design transmits 8 bytes within 150ms using a F.M. Tx and Manchester coding to minimise errors.

3)  Joint Glasgow/Bristol Projects

The City/Mack Project has the potential to combine the Bristol Wearables research with Glasgow's experience of dynamic information services e.g. Paraglide and access to city resources e.g. the Lighthouse. During my visit several 'quick win' applications emerged.

1) Recommender system for the Mack Room.

The Mack Room as a research centre is a valuable resource suited to those wishing to spend many hours studying the life and times of C.R. Mackintosh. For the casual visitor it can be difficult to find exhibits which best match personal interests. A recommender system, perhaps based on Paraglide, could match personal profiles and current location to the room's contents. A simple handheld interface could then direct the user to the particular exhibits of interest.

2) Panoramic Viewer for the Lighthouse Tower

The extensive view from the top of the Lighthouse Tower presents a challenge for the casual visitor - it can be difficult to distinguish the significant buildings on Glasgow's skyline. This has been illustrated in the Lighthouse 3d Education Centre Booklet - see Appendix II [4]. Using the compass heading feature in Bristol's combined location and heading sensing Lens, it should be possible to display pointers to interesting buildings, as well as descriptive text.

3) Audio Guide to the Mack Room

The rich visual displays would be ideally complemented by a soundtrack and/or commentary to aid the visitor. While many museums have such devices, the opportunity here is to provide a personalised and localised audio system. The content can be varied according to the personal profile of the user - age, nationality, interests - and the location/heading of the user would indicate which exhibit was of interest.

Appendix I

Images and GPS data for Mackintosh buildings:

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The Lighthouse [1] Glasgow School of Art [2] Willow Tea Rooms The Hunterian Museum
55deg 51.586min North 55deg 51.982min North 55deg 51.902min North 55deg 52.377min North
4deg 15.186deg West 4deg 15.829deg West 4deg 15.661deg West 4deg 17.321deg West

n.b. 17, Lilybank Gardens is at 55deg 52.434min North, 4deg 17.529deg West 

Appendix II

[4] Pages from the Lighthouse 3d Education Centre Booklet  

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