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Northumberland National Park

Northumberland National Parks (NNP) wanted to attract a wider audience at its new visitor centre, The Sill, by creating unique immersive content that would engage visitors in new ways. Digital Catapult provided expert advice and an introduction to Reality Zero One (RZO), a participant in the Augmentor programme. RZO was creating an end-to-end reality capture and digital delivery platform which would enable NNP to create 3D captures of its artefacts.

How can Northumberland National Park use digital technology to engage with wider audiences?

As part of its aim to engage with people of all ages from all backgrounds, NNP wanted to explore how technology could be used to reach wider audiences at its education and visitor centre, The Sill. It wanted to produce innovative digital elements for the Northumberland National Park Digital Landscape exhibition. However, it needed to work out the best type of technology to use and find a suitable business to work with to create the content.

Having previously visited Digital Catapult’s NETV Immersive Lab in Gateshead and worked with the team there to implement 360° video, NNP contacted Digital Catapult NETV for help.

Digital Catapult NETV provided expertise and introductions to startups and scaleup businesses that specialise in immersive

Digital Catapult NETV introduced NNP to innovative startups and scaleups with experience and expertise in creating photorealistic scans of historical artefacts using photogrammetry. The scans are a virtual 3D replica of a physical object that can be created to provide new ways for an audience to interact with it.

Accessing Digital Catapult’s extensive network of high calibre startups and scaleups and working alongside the knowledge and expertise of the Digital Catapult NETV team, helped NNP understand how immersive technology can be used to engage diverse audiences.

From idea to implementation, the Digital Catapult NETV team provided support and guidance ensuring that NNP gained the best possible outcome at every step.

Jenny Lang, Innovation Manager at Digital Catapult NETV, said: “NNP had numerous artefacts in its collection that visitors were unable to see and explore. NNP was looking for ways in which digital technology could enable these artefacts to be viewed in new ways. As a result of our connection with RZO, and having its scanner in the NETV Immersive Lab, Digital Catapult was able to support both companies to run a pilot photogrammetry scanning project. The outcome of which has been very successful.”

Chris Dryden, Reality Zero One founder and Director, explains “We were connected with NNP by Jenny who understood the opportunity and potential for what our technology could give to its ambitions in presenting interesting new digital subject material. This was indeed a really good fit.

“It was clear that NNP is very ambitious in terms of what they want to achieve with digital engagement. It’s probably not what the typical view of a national park would be to most people. This was actually a great fit for us as our ambition is to bring the potential of ‘studio quality’ 3D digital content production to everyone. We want to push this capability beyond the current user base, which typically is limited to those doing ‘studio production’ like games, movie or brand promotion-based content creation.”

Reality Zero One create engaging immersive content for NNP

Following an introduction by Digital Catapult NETV, NNP commissioned Reality Zero One to create content for the Digital Landscape exhibition, an innovative exhibition and events programme that exemplifies how digital technology can be used to help gain a deeper understanding and enjoyment of landscape and the natural world.

Using pioneering interactive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, the exhibition brings the beauty of the national park and its treasures to life for visitors, making Northumberland’s wild landscapes accessible to all

Reality Zero One created content for the Digital for Learning section of the exhibition which uses augmented reality and photogrammetry to create a detailed, 3D virtual museum showcasing archaeological finds from within the national park and artefacts from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, as well as virtual models of some of the park’s unique wildlife. Click to view an example of an artefact that was captured for this project.

Reality Zero One has developed a platform that consists of an internet of things enabled 3D capture device with software and cloud computing infrastructure for object creation, content management and publishing. The system has been designed to allow for a simple processor capture, creating and publishing 3D objects without need for complex post-processing. This reduces the time and cost usually required to create 3D captures of objects, making it accessible for organisations like NNP.

Chris Dryden explains “Our technology has been pushed to its limits with some of the subjects we have captured together with NNP on our scanner in PROTO and we are pleased by the results and positive response from NNP that it has proven capable of delivering stunning results with minimal user expertise required. We entered the project quite early in our product development journey so always fully expected (actually intended) that the process would reveal some elements of improvement and further refinement needed on our system. Friendly early-adopter customers are a great way to optimise product in this respect and we are driving forward to implement those refinements over the next couple of months or so.”

Visitors can also get hands-on and play in an augmented reality topographic sandbox to create their own landscapes, a feature that has been so popular that it will remain as part of the permanent exhibition at The Sill.

The inclusion of digital technologies helped attract 30,000 visitors and achieve a 91% customer satisfaction score

The Digital Landscapes exhibition has been phenomenally successful, delighting a wide range of visitors and attracting praise from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State of DCMS.

As Andrew Mitchell, Digital Officer at NNP explains, “The inclusion of these technologies into our Digital Landscapes exhibition this summer helped to attract more than 30,000 visitors. The average dwell time was over 45 minutes and we maintained a Customer Satisfaction Score of over 95%. The response to the exhibition has been overwhelming and is helping to shape our engagement activities going forward.

We can’t thank Digital Catapult NETV enough for helping to advise us and we look forward to working with them and other immersive SMEs in the future.”

Due to the success of the exhibition, Northumberland National Parks have recognised the value of working with innovative startups and scaleups, it is exploring a commercial partnership focusing on the application of hologram technology.

Andrew Mitchell, Digital Officer at NNP, describes the journey with Digital Catapult saying ”We first came into contact with Digital Catapult through an opening evening at the Immersive Lab in the Northern Design Centre. Their help and expertise have been invaluable for us over the past year.

We were keen to explore immersive technologies as a way, initially, showcasing Northumberland National Park through a 360° video project. However, this was just the start of our journey. Digital Catapult was able to advise on suitable virtual reality systems for our Digital Landscapes exhibition as well as bringing a number of startups and scaleups to the table for potential projects.

From here we have been able to work with Reality Zero One, creating incredible photogrammetry versions of bronze age artefacts from the National Park. We have been able to showcase these to visitors using Sketchfab and we are now looking into holographic systems to create our own virtual exhibitions for The Sill.”

NNP is being recognised as a model of best practice

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State of DCMS were both impressed by the exhibition. The Heritage Lottery Fund is creating a case study of work that Northumberland National Park has undertaken as a model of good practice.

Reality Zero One raises brand awareness and has created opportunities for further contracts with NNP

This project has resulted in increased exposure and use cases for future collaborations for Reality Zero One. Northumberland National Park is also seeking to explore further paid projects and potentially purchase a 3D scanner with Reality Zero One.

“As a previous participant in Digital Catapult’s Augmentor programme, it is great to see Reality Zero One going on to be so successful. This project demonstrates how Digital Catapult is accelerating the adoption of AR and VR content that adds real commercial value. Augmentor helped Reality Zero One to access the expertise and funding it needed to create its platform and now through this project, we have acted as a catalyst for adoption, helping NNP to access the potential of this new technology” Rob Eastham, Founder and CEO of RZO.

Northumberland National Park identified as a model of best practice

Potential follow on work

Northumberland National Park exploring projects with 2 more startups/scaleups

Reality Zero One increased brand awareness