Fire, Ice and Beacons Converge at Eldheimar Museum

Icelandic startup Locatify has developed a content-management system that allows museums or other organizations to create their own audio tour guides for Bluetooth-enabled smartphones or tablets, using beacons as location-based triggers.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 11, 2015

In the early morning hours of January 23, 1973, on the island of Heimaey, part of an archipelago off the coast of Iceland, the Eldfell volcano erupted. The event lasted for an astounding five months and, as a result, the island grew by 2.1 square kilometers (0.81 square mile) in size and rose by 200 meters (656 feet) in height. But the event also marked a tragedy for the island's more than 5,000 inhabitants who were forced to flee. In the end, 400 homes and businesses were covered by lava or ash.

The event, often called the Pompeii of the North, is memorialized at the Eldheimar Museum, which was built around one of the homes exhumed from the volcano's ash. The museum opened its doors in May 2014, along with a beacon-based interactive tour developed by Locatify, a startup based in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, a coastal town south of Reykjavik.

The museum loans each visitor a smartphone loaded with an audio tour and a pair of headphones; an app then triggers audio and graphic interpretations of the excavated building and other exhibits. (Photo: Locatify)
Locatify has created a content-management system (CMS) that is designed to help non-programmers develop location-based guides and game applications by leveraging Bluetooth or GPS technology, for indoor and outdoor use, respectively. The Eldheimar Museum was its first customer to create an indoor guide using the Locatify CMS. It installed 55 Bluetooth beacons, made by Kontakt.io, throughout the museum.

The user interface of Locatify's CMS is similar to that of Wordpress or other website-building platforms. "The key was to make it easy to set up," explains Steinunn Anna Gunnlaugsdóttir, one of Locatify's co-founders. "So we focus our CMS on floor maps. The user uploads a map and identifies the [audio guide] stations and associates each station with a beacon [in the CMS]."

The beacon-based audio tour guide is built into the CMS. The museum administrator starts by creating and naming a floor, and uploads a map image of that floor—in either JPG or PNG format—into the CMS. He then keys in the floor's dimensions, in meters. If the map image shows more than just the exhibit area in which the audio tour will take place—that is, if it also includes stairways or other details along the edge of the image—then he can set the margins in the image to match the dimensions he has keyed in, using the CMS's cropping tools.

In addition, the administrator can upload background music to play when the user enters that floor; he can choose to run the background audio on repeat, or have it play from beginning to end only once. He then selects the language(s) in which the tour's textual information will be available to visitors. The CMS supports English, Estonian, German, Icelandic, Italian, Suomalainen (Finnish), French, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Latvian, Faroese, Dutch and Portuguese.

The CMS user can upload an audio file to welcome the visitor to the floor, which would play over the background music. The user would then build out the stations on the map, by clicking an "add station" button, dropping a station icon on the appropriate part of the floor map, and adjusting the station's size on the map. He can upload an image and key in the name of the station, along with a short, text-based description of it, all of which will appear on the visitor's smartphone or tablet when that person arrives at the station. Then, the user uploads the pre-recorded audio tour for that station, in MP3 or MP4 file format.

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