The first major trial of the West of England Combined Authority’s 5G Smart Tourism project has taken place at the Roman Baths – with visitors trying out futuristic technology which immersed them in the site’s rich history.
The trial involved invited guests using a smartphone app to download and view virtual reality (VR)/ augmented reality (AR) content at three locations around the Roman Baths.
The trial app told the story of three periods in the World Heritage Site’s history: the mythical discovery of the hot springs by King Bladud; the Baths falling into disrepair when the Romans left; and the renovation in Victorian times. Each period was recreated by Aardman Animations as an animated 3D scene that plays for several minutes, with ‘hotspots’ that the user could discover to display interesting information about various parts.
The 5G Smart Tourism project is led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and funded by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. It brings together 25 organisations and will see the development of a testbed to demonstrate 5G capability, establishing the West of England as a world-leader in the development of advanced fixed and mobile communication systems.
Digital Minister Margot James, said: “We all want to have fast, reliable and uninterrupted connectivity on-the-go, which is why we’re rolling out 5G test bed projects like this in the Roman Baths.
“The use of the new technology will give legions of visitors in the South West the best interactive experience possible, and will help to make the UK a world leader in 5G.”
West of England Mayor Tim Bowles said: “I am proud our region is playing such a pivotal role in both the development of 5G technology and the exciting first trials of these exciting new wireless services. We are ambitious to help support a commercial roll out of 5G infrastructure across our region and we see 5G as having a role in helping us address mobility across the region and in helping with digital inclusion.
“We are well placed to become a smart region – we are already recognised as a centre of excellence, as home to the largest cluster of digital expertise outside London. We are leading the way in technology and our businesses and universities are at the forefront of innovation in next-generation networks, including 5G, such as the University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab where our 5G testbed is hosted.”
WECA and Bath & North East Somerset Council are working with a number of partners – including the BBC – to help test the 5G capabilities in Bath by hosting the pilot events at the Roman Baths.
Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase our wonderful tourism offer – which plays a huge role in the West of England’s thriving economy – and look at ways in which we can enhance the visitor experience.
“We’ve got an impressive team of experts, from the creative and tech sectors, which has developed a really imaginative and immersive experience for mobile users, so it’s brilliant that we can trial this with people in Bath.”
The director of the Smart Internet Lab, Professor Dimitra Simeonidou said: “5G will transform our future digital society and economy and will impact key sectors including transport, health , education, manufacturing and in this occasion, tourism. The University’s Smart Internet Lab has pioneered research on 5G technologies, delivering international and national impact. We are proud to support our region to lo lead on 5G deployment in the UK.”
The trial being led by WECA involves additional 5G infrastructure being rolled out at the Roman Baths in Bath, M Shed and in and around We The Curious and Millennium Square in Bristol, and further trials planned through to March 2019. Although 5G technology is not yet available to the public, and there are currently no plans for the Roman Baths to offer VR experiences to the public, the trials will demonstrate how 5G can enable new visitor experiences.
As well as supporting the visitor economy, super-fast and ultra-reliable 5G is expected to offer an increased level of connectivity and new opportunities for businesses, including better remote working, and is likely to bring significant business growth opportunities for the region’s tech sector.
5G will also support communications between emerging technology which will have a huge impact on people’s lives, allowing the public sector to test new ways of delivering services, and encouraging businesses of all sizes to explore new commercial opportunities.
5G technology in the palm of their hand: (left to right) Cllr Tim Warren, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council; Ian Smith, DCMS Programme Lead, 5G Testbed and Trials; Dimitra Simeonidou, Director of The Smart Internet Lab; and Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor.