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Blooming meta! Falmouth and Tongji Universities launch augmented reality research programme to transform garden tourism experiences  

Chinese-Cornish collaboration will see regional garden attractions working together with researchers and digital companies to create augmented reality experiences for new and diverse audiences 

Falmouth University has been granted a £100,000 award by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, along with researchers at Tongji University, digital partners VisionStar and the administration of the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.  

The prestigious award will explore a range of options and recommendations for public gardens around their use of augmented reality and virtual tools to inspire and delight diverse new audiences.  

In recognition of the role gardens play in shaping local and regional culture, each locale will develop their own bespoke artefacts and participatory exhibit to help tell their story, engage non-traditional audiences and potentially – build on the research and exhibition to develop more innovative technology applications in the future.  

Falmouth will be working with Cornwall’s Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens to identify experiential game-based methods of engaging new visitors to the site.  

Suzhou city’s multiple garden attractions date from the ancient Ming and Qing dynasties, with Humble Adventurer’s Garden, Net Master’s Garden and Lion Grove Garden among the most popular sites.  

The cross-border collaboration aims to see both institutions creating their first AR exhibitions in the late summer/early Autumn, with each university taking its own approach to the challenge of collaboration, and regularly comparing notes to see what they can learn from one another. The partnership could set the ground for more innovative technology solutions for tourist sites in both countries, using the shared data and prototypes created.  

The project comes at a time when UK and Chinese videogame sectors are under increasing pressure to diversify their audiences and applications. With location-based games like Pokémon Go and Animal Crossing reaching millions around the globe, games companies are currently developing a multitude of AR tools and experiences to respond to increasing consumer demand. 

Dr. Doug Brown, Falmouth University’s Principal Investigator and Director of the Games Academy says AR experiences will increasingly find their way into our daily lives – just as QR codes, Bluetooth and face recognition technology have via our smartphones in recent years.  

A blossoming future for Augmented Reality at tourism sites  

Falmouth was identified as a suitable partner to accelerate the research due to its role and impact in Cornwall as an anchor institution, closely aligned with the economic needs of the region.  

Working closely with heritage and tourism bodies, the University has so far developed the Augmented Telegrapher AR project with Porthcurno’s Telegraph Musuem, co-created the immersive WaVE project with the Cornwall Musuems Partnership as well as an immersive digital experience for visitors of The Kerdroya Project, a “Cornish Landscape Labyrinth” and major piece of permanent public art on Bodmin Moor. 

This AHRC-funded project reflects the growing need to recognise the need for public gardens and tourist attractions to develop new audience and exhibitor strategies in order to remain competitive.  

Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Falmouth University’s Games Academy and Principal Investigator on the project said:  

“We’re delighted to be working with Tongji University on this exciting new initiative. With extensive experience in game development, immersive technology business assistance and app design, our teams’ research is producing new knowledge that will help other small gardens leverage the engagement potential of AR. More consumers than ever before have a smartphone, so it makes sense to design AR applications that take advantage of the wide variety of smartphone owners and create experiences that can bring multi-generational family members together.   

“The work will not only provide an interesting context to look more deeply at our cross-cultural values and aesthetics, but also represents a chance to consider the role of public gardens in our appreciation of the natural world and in ‘plant tourism’ more generally. Being able to continue the University’s work boosting the engagement and enjoyment of our heritage sites here in Cornwall is a great opportunity.”   

Falmouth University’s Provost, Professor Eunice Ma (Co-investigator on the project), added: 

“Cornish gardens and classical gardens in Suzhou have a worldwide reputation for cultural heritage and natural beauty. The AHRC funded gARdens project will extend the reach of the great gardens in Cornwall and Suzhou by attracting new audiences and meeting the needs and expectations of international visitors and younger generations, informed by the research. We would also like to use the gARdens project as a pilot and starting point to enhance UK-China research and innovation collaborations in creative tourism that deliver sustainable economic, cultural and intellectual benefits in both countries.” 

Notes for editors 

  • The University’s proposal, titled “Creative tourism in the UK and China: Augmented Reality for gardens in Cornwall and Suzhou” was awarded £100,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in recognition of its aims to build a strategic partnership between the UK and China, drive local innovation and growth, share knowledge and build stronger links between HEIs and creative / tourism industries.  
  • Tongji University is located in Shanghai and is renowned for its engineering, architecture and business programs. Tonji is located around 40-50mins from Suzhou, the area where the Chinese researchers on the programme will focus their research. 
  • The joint research between Falmouth and Tongji will address how Augmented Reality can be deployed to help gardens achieve their educational missions, how it can appeal to more diverse and contemporary audiences and what methods can be used across countries and cultures to get the best results. 
  • Suzhou City in East China is located in a highly developed region, around 62 miles west of Shanghai – an area famous for its canals, waterfronts, pagodas and over 60 gardens. Suzhou’s classical gardens have twice been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city is often dubbed “The Venice of the East”.  
  • Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Cornwall overlook popular National Trust site St Michael’s Mount. Incorporating woods, a stream, dramatic vistas as well as large-scale exotic and sub-tropical planting, the site is also home to an evolving programme of contemporary artwork by artists such as James Turrell, David Nash and Richard Long, who have created site-specific permanent work that harmonise with the surrounding landscape. 

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