Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Technology with a human touch

Helping people find best routes at a multi venue event.  At the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, volunteers wandered around with small handheld wireless PDAs to help visitors find their way around. 

Basically, what these devices were designed to do was create routes from one event to another.  For instance, if you were at the track and field events, but wanted to get to the swimming and then to a rugby match, but you had never been to Melbourne before, you would find one of these people standing around, and ask them for directions.  They would enter the events you wanted to attend and the information would be processed at a remote server and a map with directions would be returned to the volunteer’s PDA.  Each volunteer had a small black and white printer attached to their belts which would print out the directions, which would include a combination of walking, bus and rail routes to optimize their travel time.

This is a pretty nifty thing, in that instead of having a number of kiosk type stations where people would do this themselves, real live people were, in effect, the kiosk.  I think this has a number of advantages over the kiosk system. 

    1. While kiosks provide information without having to manage the people to run them, having volunteers with wireless devices allows them to override the directions when it makes sense to do so. 
    2. Since there are still a number of people in the world who don’t do well with technology, having live people to get the directions for them improves access to the technology
    3. People always have more questions than any information system can handle, and kiosks can only answer so many of them.  But volunteers who know the ins and outs of the transportation system, the events and the city itself are generally the most efficient information system.

I wonder if this sort of thing is going to be used for the Olympics.
On a side note, I really wasn’t familiar with what the Commonwealth Games are all about, since our media over here pays little attention to them.  In effect, they are like the Olympics, but only for former British colonies.  There are lots of events like that on a regional level, like the Pan Am, Asian and African games.  One fun aspect of that is that all the former members of the British Empire speak English, and so everyone at the event can communicate with each other.   Former host cities have been Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, Victoria (BC), Auckland, Kingston (Jamaica), and the next games in 2010 are in Delhi, India.

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