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Banff New Media Institute at The Banff Centre

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Banff New Media Institute at The Banff Centre, Research Archives

Current Research in Development
Tracklines: take only cellphones, leave only footprints
“The wilderness is not just far away, and dwindling, but implicit in things we use everyday, as close at hand as a flat tire or a missed step.” ~ Don McKay, Materiel
Imagine having a sixth sense that let you access a floating world of information just beyond the range of sensory perception – a world where the invisible became visible, and what we once thought of as nature, culture, and technology were revealed to be one in the same. What stories, what experiences might be hiding there, about to break the surface? What secret histories might we discover, if only we knew how to look for them?

Tracklines is a Global Heart Rate research project founded in a rigorous cycle of technical and aesthetic innovation. It’s a trail-based mobile media installation; a guided experience where hikers use GPS smartphones to navigate a mountainous landscape seeded locatively with stories. Think of it as a ‘walkumentary’ – a wild stroll of imagination combining elements of documentary and trail-guiding with some very old patterns of storytelling, and very new innovations in location-based digital delivery.

As a research project hosted by the BNMI’s Mobile Lab, the investigations behind Tracklines are multi-fold, exploring the place where nature, culture, and technology converge in mobile media experience design.

Nature: media with the mountains in mind
How can mobile media and locative technologies be used to enhance the experience of visitors to Banff National Park? Can locative media help people feel more connected to mountain places? What are the parameters when designing content for “wilderness” environments? Who or what are we accountable to? How do elements of geography, narrative, and mobile media interaction work together to define the user’s core experience?

If, as designers, we become architects of this floating world of location-based information, then perhaps we ought to be as concerned about how our designs fit with the landscape – and how they converse with it – as an architect working with iron and stone. Perhaps we should be asking not only what niche our designs occupy with respect to human ecology, but the biosphere as well.

As exploratory design research, Tracklines addresses questions of sustainability in mobile media and technology design. It asks how locative media fits into natural systems, and how this media is positioned to influence human thought and behaviour when encountering and learning about those systems. How will cellphone-based experiences mediate our vision of protected areas and National Parks? How does wilderness-based mobile media design correlate with wider disciplines of sustainable design practice, landscape architecture, urban informatics, ecological restoration, and psychogeography? What does it mean for parks when pristine wild landscapes become sites for virtual architecture? Who decides where and what to build? What secret forces, hidden patterns, buried histories stand to be revealed – and how will this affect how we see?

Culture: human-focused experience design
How do people use mobile phones and GPS devices in mountain environments? How do they want to use them? How do park users from different cultural backgrounds view the National Parks? How do their attitudes about using mobile technology there differ? Who’s the audience for high elevation locative experiences? What kind of location-based content would you want to receive while trekking the trails?

The Banff New Media Institute is committed to working not just with international new media artists and businesses, but also the diverse communities of practice steadily adopting digital expression – both globally and locally. In keeping with this philosophy, the Tracklines project acknowledges its global context while remaining deeply rooted in the local.

Through community outreach we are building working partnerships not only with Banff National Park, but with the people who visit or live permanently in the Southern Alberta Rockies bioregion. We are striving to create mobile media content tailored not only for mountain places, but mountain-going people, by incorporating an inclusive attitude into our design process, backed up by human-centred research methods ranging from focus groups to participatory design practice and usability field testing. In this activity, we join the hundreds of mobile media projects currently engaging community-based design practices around the planet, from the tropics to the far North and South.

Technology: a new engine for locative content delivery
On the engineering side, Tracklines is a prototype software application for use with common cellular phone operating systems. The application combines multimedia screen interaction with a geospatial browser ideal for delivering locative content on Banff trails.

The Tracklines application has been developed through a rigorous rapid prototyping process using the Mobile Experience Engine (MEE), a unique code-generating tool for the rapid creation of location-aware and context-rich mobile media experiences. The MEE is an original platform and a major software innovation created in-house by the engineers of Global Heart Rate and the Mobile Digital Commons Network.

As part of the Mobile Digital Commons Network, Global Heart Rate will also explore the use of new environmental sensor technologies (light, temperature, humidity, etc.) presently being developed by our network partners at Concordia University.

For more information about Tracklines email bnmi_info@banffcentre.ca.

For further information about MDCN activities, visit the network website: http://www.mdcn.ca.

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Filed under: academic, new media, research, social, space/place, technology

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