Connectivity in bloom at Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman June 1, 2017
A new app helps visitors make the most of their day out at the Garden, boosted by beacons that guide them around some of its popular beauty spots.

Spread over 17 acres of one of Europe’s most glamorous capitals, and with its public entrance situated close to the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid (RJB) attracts some 450,000 visitors each year.

Many of them come carrying smartphones - so the Garden has recently developed a new mobile application for them, RJB Museum Vivo, which was launched in May.

The app allows them to access maps of the entire site and to create personalized guided tours for themselves, based on their specific interests or length of stay. Users can choose from a number of one to three-hour routes, with options for adults, children, botanists and those with limited mobility.

They can also use it locate specific sites: plants that are in bloom at the time of their visit, individual statues, fountains and art exhibitions, and more mundane but necessary services such as toilets and vending machines. According to RJB director Jesus Munoz:

The application provides images, videos and audio content about our plant life, meaning our visitors can access all of our biodiversity from the palm of their hand.

By downloading the app before visiting the garden, you can not only prepare your visit in advance and create a route to suit you, but you can also review the shortest routes to get to wherever you want to go.

Beacons in abundance

Diginomica spoke to Alvaro Garcia-Hoz, CEO and founder of Mobile 72, the local app development specialist that created RJB Museum Vivo, to learn more about the technology behind it.

The infrastructure to support the app in every corner of the Garden, he explained, is provided by HPE’s Aruba wireless networking business (acquired by HPE in 2015), as is the means to manage network access. Some 250 Aruba BLE [Bluetooth low-energy] beacons are distributed around the site, 90 percent of which are outdoors. These emit radio signals that allow the app, for Android and iOS, to pick up location-specific information. And at the reception area, visitors can connect to WiFi to download the app, via Aruba’s ClearPass product for network access security and guest management.

Mobile 72 started working with this technology at the company’s inception in 2013 and it has since carved a niche for itself in providing location-specific apps, Garcia-Hoz explains.

An earlier project, for example, saw the company provide an app for Spain’s oldest museum, the 300 year-old Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, also in Madrid. But the largely outdoors nature of the RJB project threw up some specific challenges, he adds:

When we work in an old building that hosts a museum and you place a beacon in one of the halls, the walls tend to be thick, so the GPS on a phone is listening to just that one beacon. But outdoors, if you made the same kind of deployment, in terms of how close one beacon is to another, then the user device will start to listen to too many beacons, giving problems with accuracy.

So we ran some tests and found a solution: to separate the beacons more. To give an idea, in an indoor space, we can have the beacons every 12 to 14 metres. But in the gardens, we placed them every 40 metres because the signal outside is stronger.

Seasonal attractions

Another important aspect of the RJB project, he adds, was the seasonal aspect of many of its attractions. After all, a statue or fountain will be in situ all year round, but a particular tree or shrub may only be in bloom for a few weeks during a specific month. In order to ensure that its visitors get the most from their visit, RJB needed to be able to highlight these transient attractions via the app, he says:

So what we have created for RJB is a content management system [CMS], where they can manage all the app’s content in the cloud. If we tried to include all 300 points of interest in the app itself, with photos, audio and in some cases video for each specific point, the app would take up around 1 gigabyte of space. It wouldn’t work well and it wouldn’t give a good user experience. The app needed to be light and it needed to give only the most relevant information for a particular time of year.

Using the CMS, which Mobile 72 built itself, RJB can manage and update content really quickly, by logging into the CMS and including a specific, seasonal point of interest on specific tours, such as the ten most beautiful spots in the Garden for that particular day.

While Mobile 72 has a clear specialism on location-specific apps, it is increasingly asked by clients to integrate data from other systems into the apps it builds, using application programming interfaces (APIs). For example, in the case of RJB, it’s working on introducing ticketing functions, so visitors can buy ahead and skip the entrance lines when they arrive at the Garden.

RJB Museum Vivo is available in Spanish, English and German and automatically identifies the user’s preferred language via their mobile device. It’s a boon to visitors, but also to the Garden’s management team, says Garcia-Hoz:

By gathering data about indoor location and movement, the garden can receive valuable information about the individual activities and preferences of its visitors. You’re able to review the flow of people across the garden, and the amount of time spent in specific areas of the garden, indicating levels of interest. This kind of information helps increase the efficiency of operations in the garden, and improves access management for the visitors.

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