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Home > News > Challenge Project Profile: Historic Environment Scotland and SENSEcity

Challenge Project Profile: Historic Environment Scotland and SENSEcity

In 2020 Historic Environment Scotland (HES) set a Creative Informatics Challenge Project to tap into their extensive data sets and archives and enhance visitor experiences at their historical sites through the development of an innovative product that would allow visitors to engage with historical locations in new and exciting ways.

Experience design studio SENSEcity were selected to respond to this challenge and together with archaeologist and heritage scientist Tiomóid Foley, they have been working closely with HES to develop Historicsope, a viewing scope with integrated Augmented Reality software that allows visitors to look out from a fixed point and engage with a range of content from the locations history.

Urquhart Castle, image credit Historic Environment Scotland

Urquhart Castle, located on the banks of Loch Ness, was selected as the test site for the development of Historiscope. The SENSEcity team opted to work with AR tools, using authentic and real-time data to create an immersive experience for visitors. This enabled them to superimpose digital content on a user’s view from the castle, adding an extra layer to reality and inviting visitors to step back in time and view the site in its prime!

Designing Historiscope

Historiscope was designed to complement the broader historical landscape of Urquhart Castle, creating not just a digital experience, but a new artistic interpretation and symbolic representation of the human experience at this incredible location.

SENSEcity followed four key design principles to create a frictionless journey for Historicsope users.

Immediate: Historiscope would not require any downtime to wait in line, gear up, or download an app.

Inclusive: Historiscope had to be comprehensive, inviting, and self-contained, with no need for visitors to use their own external devices or software.

Immersive: Historiscope had to be engaging and immersive, giving visitors a snapshot of history.

Intuitive: Historiscope would not require visitors to read complicated instructions or learn complex new interfaces.

Historiscope development, credit SENSEcity

In May 2021 The SENSEcity team visited Urquhart Castle and met with staff who discussed the challenges of trying to help visitors visualise the history of the castle in its current form and welcomed the possibility of Historiscope offering a unique ‘see for yourself’ experience.

One of the key questions for HES and SENSEcity was what period of time Historiscope should focus on. Urquhart Castle is steeped in rich history and was subject to ever changing architectural designs, not to mention changes to human behaviour over time. After reviewing historical records and archaeological findings at the site, they settled on developing an experience of everyday life at the castle during the 15th century.

The prototype of Historiscope enables users to view an eighty second glimpse of a Castleton on the grounds in front of Urquhart Castle, complete with a timber hall, housing and men, women and children in the correct period attire, undertaking their daily tasks and activities. To help create a more immersive experience, SENSEcity worked with the interpretation team at HES to develop an audio soundtrack with some native Gaelic speakers from the Isle of Skye, giving an authentic indigenous and historic feel to the landscape around the castle.

Historiscope testing, credit SENSEcity

Historiscope was installed at Urquhart Castle on the 13th of September 2021 for testing and has received very positive feedback from visitors that have tried it out so far. SENSEcity and HES hope to continue their collaboration and develop Historiscope further over the coming months! You can find out more about the Historiscope project over on the SENSEcity blog.

Applications for our Round 6 Challenge Holders are open now! If your creative or cultural organisation is looking to power new ideas in its work using data or data-driven technologies, submit your Challenge Holder application by 5pm on Wednesday 3rd November. If you’d like to discuss your Challenge Project idea with the Creative Informatics team, get in touch at creativeinformatics@ed.ac.uk.



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