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Mobile apps allow physical objects to be tagged with memories

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/E507654/1
Discipline: Design
Funding opportunity: Research Grant
Areas of Impact: Engagement with Business; Communities; Digital technologies
Lead RO: University of Edinburgh
Region: Scotland

Mobile apps, developed by Edinburgh researchers, have been used to explore how online material can be associated with actual objects and places. Across two RCUK funded projects, technology has enabled users to store memories on to physical objects and allow global brands to associate digital data with products.

The AHRC Branded Meeting Places project used mobile visual search technology to explore the use of mobile phone applications to ‘tag’ places or objects with invisible clues that could prompt memories. Users were able to embed digital content in an object or place, simply by taking a photograph of it, using an ordinary camera phone.

Professor Richard Coyne led the project, which provided further leverage for a spin-off company, Mobile Acuity, set up by two of the researchers, Dr Mark Wright and Dr Anthony Ashbrook. The technology has been taken up by global brands such as Nike, Disney and Tesco and secured investment of over £1 million. It was used by Tesco in a grocery app for the mass market, with Tesco rating the Mobile Acuity Solution better than that offered by a range of international competitors.

A mobile app ‘Agent 3.1’ was also launched for fashion label Phillip Lim, enabling customers to scan brochures to reveal additional content about the label, including its first graphic novel. One mobile technologies expert said that ‘(Using the Mobile Acuity MVS) the brand and its agency chose to put ownership and control of the user experience in the hands of the actual user… As simplistic as this sounds, fundamentally, it is actually pretty revolutionary in digital fashion; the new model of marketing mobility’. It seems it is the focus on user experience which makes these technologies so different from those already available.

As the adoption of smart phones increased toward 2010, further opportunities to explore the connection between place and memory became possible. Extending principles from the Branded Meeting Places project, Professor Chris Speed led the TOTeM project, which allowed the general public to use QR tags to attach digital memories to artefacts and physical environments.

Users were able to tag objects through the website and smart phone applications Tales of Things: talesofthings.com

The technology was used on goods donated to Oxfam, allowing patrons to record downloadable audio stories about their donations, as part of a week-long pilot called ‘Remember Me’. Over the week, sales in the store increased by 57%. Oxfam then invited the researchers to develop the Shelflife app over 1,600 objects were donated and tagged, across ten pilot stores in the Manchester area. Feedback suggested that adding stories to secondhand items increased their worth and reduced disposability.

For more information on the project visit: www.design21.dundee.ac.uk/Phase2/Phase_2_projects/Branded_meeting_places.htm

Gateway to Research Project Links: Branded meeting places: ubiquitous technologies and the design of places for meaningfull human encounter, Nov 06 - Dec 0

Associated image: SNDRV on Flickr by CC 2.0