Exploring ‘New Territory’: Where Technology & History Converge
By Abigail Bashor
Learn more about the new augmented reality experience in Lock 2 Park and the company that made it happen. To take part in the experience yourself, follow the steps below:
- Download the NT One app throughthe Apple Store or Google Play. Please note: Data is required to download the app, but not to load the experience. We recommend downloading the app when you hae WiFi before heading to Lock 2.
- Head to Lock 2 Park and open the app. Scan the target image, posted on the side of the canal boat frame within the park.
- A life-size version of the canal boat will appear! Walk up to the boat, walk around the boat, and even "walk through walls" to see the inside of the boat. Once inside, walk throughout the entire boat, check out different rooms, and locate Easter eggs of information about different objects in the boat and what the rooms were used for.
Bill and Grace Myers never could have imagined that a project for the Akron Civic Commons would lead them to scour the books of Charles Dickens. Nevertheless, they found themselves doing just that a few weeks into developing an augmented reality experience for Lock 2 in downtown Akron.
Since June of 2018, Bill and Grace’s technology startup company, New Territory, has worked closely with partners of Akron Civic Commons to create an interactive experience along the Towpath Trail. As a virtual and augmented reality software company, New Territory designs simulated user experiences based on client needs. Founded in 2015, the company has built both its software and its business network from the ground up, establishing virtual reality meet-up groups with more than 1,000 members and relocating its headquarters to downtown’s Bounce Innovation Hub.
With three developers and a handful of partners to work with on different initiatives, the team continues to build out. While the company expands, its focus on sharing the possibilities of creative technology has remained the same. Drawing from his undergraduate experience, Bill explains that his love of storytelling is what initially led him to discover virtual technology. “I filmed mostly for nonprofit organizations [while in school] and really fell in love with doing whatever it took to tell a story in an interesting way. When I had the chance to do my first virtual reality demo about five years ago, I put on the headset and my life forever changed as a result. From that moment forward, I realized that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to share this technology with the rest of the world.”
A background in nonprofit work in the Akron area similarly led Grace to find fulfillment in community-based learning and exploration. “My first love isn’t technology, but Bill’s passion for it was absolutely infectious. We kind of committed to developing this community within the city that we both care deeply for. It’s been a great extension of what I was already passionate about and what Bill was passionate about coming together to hopefully make Akron better.”
Though it took a great deal of studying the mechanics of this new field, as far as coding and creating the software itself, both Bill and Grace have learned so much through the process of launching New Territory that they’re able to help even the novice understand the concept behind the technology. First and foremost, they say it’s important to recognize the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). “VR cuts you off from the outside world and puts you in a completely virtual space by wearing a headset of some sort,” explains Bill. “Whereas AR can be experienced with a cell phone, an iPad, tablet device, or even some sort of headset as well. But really the goal of AR is that you’re still seeing the real world while having a virtual object to interact with.”
“What’s great about AR is that there are fewer barriers to people giving it a try,” adds Grace. “It’s not as intimidating as the headset, which we understand can be a little bit daunting or claustrophobic. AR is just a very comfortable experience. You can be in your own natural environment with your own device, interacting with a space that you’ve been to maybe hundreds of times before in a completely new way.”
Upon learning of the opportunity to introduce their technology to Lock 2 Park by working with the Akron Civic Commons, Bill and Grace jumped at the chance to do something innovative and meaningful for the community they love. Using New Territory’s own custom AR application, NT One, through which brands or organizations can add their content to an already established platform, the idea for Lock 2 is to develop an interactive experience accessible through people’s phones. By downloading the NT One app, visitors to Lock 2 will be able view a 3-D structure of the canal boat that exists at the park and experience a self-guided tour of the boat as though they were inside it. Along with informational pop-up markers to relate the history of the canal, the experience is meant to be both playful and educational.
Bill says that putting the finished product together has had much to offer in the way of valuable teaching moments.
“We’re doing a lot of learning while taking part in this project,” he says. “We’ve always created experiences to be used anywhere, but with this experience we’re building it to be used in a very specific location, and we want it to be mapped exactly to that site. We want [the technology] to match the outline of the canal boat as precisely as possible.”
In developing the educational content for the experience, New Territory worked closely with the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition’s strategic initiatives coordinator, George Ebey. With a limit on the app’s file sizes, it was evident that the content for the pop-up markers needed to be clear, concise, and limited to about two sentences each. Packing such a large volume of historic information into a small quantity called for thoughtful expertise on the subject, and both Bill and Grace say that working with Ebey made the process smooth and efficient. Within 24 hours, they had the five historic sections of the AR boat completed.
One area that posed a challenge for designing the experience with historic accuracy came from the lack of interior canal boat images. “George helped us initially in finding images of the canal boat, the old black-and-white photos from the 1900s which were great. But we were struggling with one major thing: What the heck does the inside of the canal boat look like?” explains Bill. “None of the photographers from the 20th century wanted to put their very expensive cameras onto the canal boat at the time. Basically, no one had a photo of the inside and we just weren’t finding what it looked like to be on the inside of these cabins.”
At Grace’s suggestion, the Myers visited the Peninsula Library on a whim and met with a historian. After sharing with the historian that they were seeking images of the inside of a canal boat, they asked if he had any ideas.
“Immediately he responds, as if he had been waiting for someone to ask this question, ‘There are no photos of the inside of canal boats, but if you read Charles Dickens novels, he went on over 60 canal boat tours in his life and it’s all documented. If you want to learn what the inside of canal boats look like, read Charles Dickens.’” Sure enough, after a few chapters of reading Dickens novels before dozing off to sleep, Bill and Grace discovered the answer to what they were looking for. “To say the least, it was an interesting way to explore an important new piece of information that we needed for the accuracy of our project.”
For Bill and Grace, taking on the project at Lock 2 is more than just a creative challenge or way to expand New Territory’s reach. Rather, it offers the opportunity to help build a vibrant and integrated downtown. “We love the idea of bringing more people downtown to interact,” says Grace. “By bringing attention to and placing a spotlight on one specific area, the hope is to inspire people to explore and learn more about these neighborhoods that they might not have experienced before. Being more engaged with their city allows a community’s citizens to feel attached and connected, which only equals more strength and growth in the future.”
Bill adds that what makes the work at Lock 2 so special is the chance that’s being taken with New Territory to lead the project. “[The Civic Commons] saw something in us as a newer startup trying to do more within the city, and this was an incredible first opportunity for us to take our skills and put it toward a historical project of some sort, blending those two worlds together in a way that Northeast Ohio has never really seen.”
The Myers are incredibly excited to see how the augmented reality experience at Lock 2 will continue to grow and take shape. They see the groundwork being done now as the beginning of something special. “We think that this is just the start of a whole new way to do storytelling,” they eagerly express. “Using our phones or a headset, we’re trying to bring history to life and get people to think differently about how they interact with it. The love of technology is there, so we’re meeting people where they’re at by figuring out how to educate and entertain them in a different way. We really think the storytelling potential with this project is something that will catch on like wildfire as we move forward.”