Wayfinding solutions help navigate the World Games
Visitors to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi had access to advanced navigation solutions to get the most from the event
Major sporting events always draw the world’s attention, but along with achievements on the track or pitch, many events are becoming a showcase for the host nation, and a testbed for new technologies. While some technologies are confined to the sporting arena, many cities are now taking the opportunity to test out new technologies to help manage the large number of visitors, increase the efficiency and useability of transport systems or venue, and provide new ways for fans to experience the games.
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, which took place from 14th-21st March, utilised a number of technology solutions, both behind the scenes and in front of users, including smart wayfinding and information solutions, developed by consultancy Khatib & Alami (K&A).
The games brought together more than 7,500 athletes from 195 participating nations, along with 20,000 volunteers, and the smart navigation tools, which included information kiosks and in-app navigation across 10 venues for the games, were intended to help them get the most from their visit.
K&A, an official partner of the games, developed two main systems for the games, the in-app navigation, which included AR features, and information kiosks which also included navigation capabilities and a chatbot. Ten venues were covered by the app, while 26 kiosks were deployed for nine of these venues.
The solutions were developed by K&A’s Geographic Systems Integration (GSI) department, using its WayPlus wayfinding solution. Based on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, WayPlus uses floor plans of venues, usually AutoCAD drawings, which are converted in Geographic Information System (GIS) models to create the navigation service. The client solution runs on a web browser to provide indoor navigation services and other information.
The navigation app uses a mobile phone’s GPS to locate the user, although if a venue has its own beacons, this can improve location accuracy to one meter, which enables richer and more accurate services.
For the World Games, the WayPlus navigation service was built in to the official app – the first official app for a Special Olympics World Games - with around 32,000 users accessing the service over the course of the games.
The navigation app also included augmented reality features, powered by Apple ARKit and Android ARCore. AR was provided during the Games to allow users to browse different facilities such as games locations, spectator areas, taxi/bus stands, washrooms, prayer rooms, food facilities, etc, with the app showing related pins on the screen to guide users.
The same WayPlus solution was utilised for the kiosks, which included touchscreen navigation and an integrated chatbot. The kiosks were used over 50,000 times during the games, mainly at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the main venue for the event, mainly by users wanting to locate facilities.
Manal Sayed, senior director of K&A’s Geospatial Systems Integration team, said that the smart tools that were developed for the Special Olympics World Games 2019 showcased some of the latest wayfinding technologies.
“The app is incredibly easy to use because it includes an augmented reality feature, which is a significant step up from most of the pedestrian wayfinding applications that people are familiar with,” added Manal. “It can directly tell you which way to turn while looking at your surroundings, instead of at a map, which can be more reassuring and helpful. The inclusion of a chatbot is also important because it provides an intuitive experience for users, thanks to advanced artificial intelligence technology.”
The chatbot provided by K&A is also based on Microsoft Azure and its Bot Framework, Sayed explained, along with Language Understanding - LUIS – a natural language processing technology from Microsoft. These capabilities allow for interaction with the chatbot through voice, touchscreen and typing interaction, while the chatbot can reply in text and spoken word.
“We are able to incorporate any character or avatar into the app,” Sayed added. “For the Games the avatar/character used was Rabdan the horse, which has cultural significance to the UAE. Rabdan was the celebrated mount of Zayed the First; a gift from the Sharif of Mecca, Abdullah bin Hashem, and said to be descended from the horse of the Prophet Muhammed. Rabdan was the subject of several poems, and his bloodline is still present in horses ridden by the ruling Nahyan family.”
Another application that K&A provided for people attending the games was a Storytelling app. This app allowed the user to record their ‘journey’ through the games, and to view trip routes, save memories and share their experiences with friends via Twitter and Facebook or on the app itself. Users could continuously view their current location on the displayed map, along with all trip statistics. Users could share the URL for their journey via SMS or WhatsApp, allowing the recipient to also view the journey on their chosen story telling app or web browser.
“We gathered feedback from users during and after the Games. We found that users enjoyed the storytelling app. The general consensus was that they liked being able to record their voice notes and videos and have them automatically placed on the route,” Sayed noted.
One important aspect of the services was to ensure that they would be accessible and easy to use by all attendees. Design and functions were tailored for maximum accessibility, Sayed added: “Ease of use for anyone and everyone is a key design principle of the app and also the kiosks, and this was reflected in the technology provided for them.
“In the case of the app, we provided voice interaction for the chatbot to aid the visually impaired. Moreover, we ensured that the user Interface was as clean as possible, with large icons and visual indicators to ensure maximum usability. We also added extra details to the map, to show the exact facilities such as football fields, basketball fields, exits, spectator areas to ensure that users can easily differentiate locations by colour, shape and labels.”
Dr Najib Khatib, chairman and CEO of K&A, said: “We’re delighted to be playing our part in the delivery of the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in the MENA region. The key to the success of any smart technology is that it should be easily accessible and user-friendly – these are the measures that our experts are applying to ensure that the tools we’re providing add to the experience of everyone at the event, whether they are participants, organizers or spectators.
“The Games are bringing together tens of thousands of people from across the world, so it provides an exciting opportunity to draw on the full potential of smart wayfinding technologies to help people get the most out of their visit, both at the event and elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.”