Blispa’s WOMAD Festival app makes finding the music and people you love as easy as tapping on a screen

People finders, location-aware up-to-the-minute band listings and treasure hunts all add to the fun at World music festival
28th September 2016

blispa-womad-app-2016-line-up-2For those of you who made it to the sunny WOMAD festival last month, you’ll know it was an amazing three-day sun-fest with leading world music and food. You may also have encountered the official WOMAD app (see right), which was designed by Bath-based Blispa to provide a comprehensive and interactive guide to the festival, including artists, workshops, children’s’ activities and the 400 traders on site.

The app also included a treasure hunt game, competitions from sponsors, a rating system for festival traders and an incredibly useful ability to find other festival goers using Finder wristbands.

Back, bigger and better

We reported on the app last year when, thanks to winning some funding from UK Government innovation funding organisation InnovateUK, the Blispa WOMAD app made its first outing. However, we knew a lot more work had been put into the app over the last 12 months and TechSPARK thought it was only fair that we put this latest version through its paces. Consequently, my family and I went to WOMAD for a fun-filled extended weekend of amazing music and food… oh, and app testing. Yep, extensive app testing. I don’t know… the things we put ourselves through in the name of research.

We also caught up with Michael Youngman, Director of Blispa, after the festival to tell us more about the app’s creation, and the journey the company has been on. As he tells us “For the last 18 months Blispa has been developing the Blispa event app with WOMAD funded by an InnovateUK grant. This year’s WOMAD festival was the first chance for the public and festival organisers to see the results of this collaboration.”

And it was a collaboration which was loved by the festival goers: “Getting great feedback from users was very rewarding, and we got a great 4.4 score in the app store and some really positive feedback in person and on social media.”

You can get a feel for how Blispa’s festival app technology works in the video below:

 

The app itself had a very simple navigation screen blispa-womad-app-2016-welcome-to-womadp(see left), allowing you, amongst many other things, to know in real time who was playing at each stage (as you passed them), create an itinerary of who you wanted to see, be told about deals from traders as you pass them (and to rate the traders), and most importantly of all for me, a people (read, children) finder.

blispa-womad-2016-app-finder-wristbandTo test the WOMAD app Person Finder functionality at the festival we were quite fortunate to have two willing volunteers – my 8-year-old and 6-year-old children, Joe and Sophie. First of all, we needed to get them fitted with some funky Finder wristbands (see right) which, as Michael tells us, were all individual and unique: “They were handmade in Bath using upcycled ties from local charity Dorothy House.”

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Being found in style: Joe and Sophie Middleton modelling
the up-cycled WOMAD app Finder wristbands

As with all testing, you have to allow for some random behaviour from the testers. Straight after my son was given his wristband, I turned around and he’d completely disappeared from view. We soon found out that this was because we’d told him that once he was wearing the wristband we could find him anywhere, so he’d gone and hid to see if it was true! Fortunately, although we hadn’t planned on testing it straight away, the app allowed me to discover he was hiding within 5 metres – and we quickly unearthed him from behind an ice cream van.

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Run away! Our willing guinea pigs testing
how good the Finder wristbands are by
fleeing from us at every opportunity and hiding

The app is designed to warn you by changing from green to red if your child moves further than five meters away:

blispa-womad-app-2016-finder-joe-and-sophie 
And a quick tap would you show you the person’s location on a map of the festival:

blispa-womad-app-2016-finder-joe-and-sophie1
 

It was surprisingly useful: quickly, something we thought was a ‘nice to have in an emergency’ feature, we found ourselves using all the time – mainly because when we decided to go see different things it was really easy to find each other when we wanted to.

Sold out within hours

Michael tells us this particular part of the app proved very attractive to festival goers: “Our trial of 400 wristbands sold out before the festival began and within hours of being announced,” he tells us.

“It was a great moment for us when we were able to reunite a missing child with her parents within minutes”

 

“Finder wristbands are activated using the festival app, enabling the location of wristband wearers to be seen on a map within the app. We use crowd sourcing from all the app users on site to find the wristband, without using GPS.

“It was a great moment for us when we were able to reunite a missing child with her parents within minutes.”

Bluetooth solutions

blispa-beaconsSo, if it isn’t GPS, how does the Finder work? Same as all of the other location-aware app functions, it is all based on beacon technology. Michael explains: “We use Bluetooth beacons (see right) to help identify locations on site. These small battery-powered devices trigger the app when they are near. Our management platform sets what the app will do – so when the app is near a stage, for example, it shows what is on there next.

“This technology is great for the festival environment since it enables the location of temporary stages to be identified, and unlike GPS doesn’t drain a phone’s battery if used continuously.”

To make this work though, Blispa had a big logistical task to be completed to ensure the whole festival site is covered. Michael tells us: “We put over three hundred beacons around the site to trigger the app, Michael tells us, “meaning we could both trigger the app, provide organisers with crowd management information and support our finder wristbands.

“Putting the beacons out as the festival site is built, and gathering them in before it is dismantled was a tiring race against time for the team and requires an efficient process for deployment which we developed based on the experience we gained in our initial trials at WOMAD last year.”

blispa-crew-laying-blispa-beacons

Location, location location: Tom Fletcher, Steve Gallagher and
Dan Bryan enjoying the benefits of the buggy for beacon deployment

 

Treasure hunts

blispa-womad-app-trees-gameAnother aspect of the app which the kids enjoyed was a treasure hunt game based in the arboretum at WOMAD. Location triggers would send questions to your phone and you gained points for finding trees and answering questions about them. As Michael tells us “It was fun walking through the arboretum overhearing people being surprised when the trees asked them questions in the app.”

Blispa also collaborated with other companies to make its app’s many features work: For example, Michael tells us “The content from the app comes seamlessly from the EventHalo content management applet, part of Bath-based EventHalo Outdoor Event Management System.”

“InnovateUK funding was critical to us. It enabled us to use innovative technology well before it became mainstream.”

 

As the whole project was made possible by InnovateUK funding, we wondered if Michael would recommend this route to others? “InnovateUK funding was critical to us, says Michael, “It enabled us to use innovative technology well before it became mainstream. The big advantage for us was that it enabled us to work in a consortium with WOMAD and EventHalo that would have been unlikely without InnovateUK backing. WOMAD’s support has been invaluable, giving us industry insights and challenges which have helped take our ideas from a few crazy Powerpoint slides into real life use. This will give us a great start in developing the platform.

“Going forward, InnovateUK has been supportive in identifying potential future exploitation opportunities, so I would strongly recommend exploring this route to funding innovation projects. Applying and managing the grant process can be daunting, but I am also happy to share my experiences with others exploring this and I continue to support other companies through the process.”

So what’s next for Blispa? Michael tells us Blispa are planning to take its festival and event platform to other festivals. He adds, “Blispa has also taken the game and beacon triggered trail components to create an easy-to-use package for museums and cities to create tourist trails without developer input. We are currently trialling this in local museums and with some beta testers around the world, so we hope to have some more public apps in the app store by the end of the year.”

Many thanks to Michael for taking the time to talk to us. You can see more at the Blispa website, or by following the company on Twitter here: @blispauk