Bridging the Rural Divide: Inclusive Technology in the Countryside
Swansea University’s Computer Science Department and the University of Nottingham’s School of Computer Science have been awarded a £365K grant from the Research Councils UK Digital Economy programme, towards a joint project worth nearly £1million.
The two-year research project, entitled ‘Bridging the Rural Divide’, is a collaboration between the two universities, Ordnance Survey, the Countryside Council for Wales and the RCUK Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub at the University of Nottingham and commenced on October 1, 2010.
Focusing on the uneven distribution of access to digital services across the UK and the distinct urban – rural divide project partners will research factors responsible for this disparity and the development of digital mapping services in urban and rural environments.
Dr Alan Chamberlain from the University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab explains: “Current digital mapping services largely focus on urban environments. Google Maps, for example, offers rich street views of urban settings, but such views of rural space are largely absent.”
The project team will seek to redress the digital imbalance through developing innovative mapping services, which will enhance a broad range of activities that sustain the rural economy, such as walking, cycling, canoeing and bird watching.
Specifically, the project will create community-based maps that enhance engagement with the countryside and novel data services that enable individuals to input and/or access digital content in the field.
By developing these services in the wild with potential users of the technology, the research will provide a blueprint for broader roll-out and help to meet the needs of those who live and visit the countryside.
Professor Matt Jones, from Swansea University’s Future Interaction Technology (FIT) Lab said: “The Computer Science Department and the FIT Lab are well known internationally for work in human-computer interaction and this is a fantastic opportunity to apply this expertise close to home in Wales. We are excited to be working with our project partners to imagine new ways of capturing and sharing location based experiences.
“We will be focusing on exploring mobile devices and services that will allow people to represent the locations around them in personal and meaningful ways.”
It is hoped that the user-led design of a ‘rural ubicomp toolkit’ will allow people to create and share community-based maps that reflect their interests and concerns. For example, users will be able to sketch routes of their favourite pathways through the countryside.
These routes will be augmented by GPS data and community content relevant to different points on their route. Tags and content can also be added to other users’ routes, adding to the overall body of knowledge.
The toolkit will also allow content to be accessed and added to, via displays in visitor centres, on-line and via mobile phones. ‘Bridging the Rural Divide’ will result in an openly available set of tools to allow people to capture experiences, represent rural experiences and share them.
John Hand, Head of the RCUK Digital Economy programme commented, “This project is a great example of putting the users of technology at the heart of the research project. Involving the local communities and visitors will be a great way to ensure the resulting technology and services are relevant and useful to those who stand to benefit.”
For more information on the Computer Sciences Department at Swansea University visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk/compsci/ and on the Future Interaction Technology Laboratory at Swansea University visit http://www.fitlab.eu/.