Seattle's Space Needle is entering another dimension after working with several agencies and companies to transform its physical experience into virtual reality.
“One of the greatest aspects of this project has been the local partnerships that made these experiences possible. Microsoft technology played an integral role, as did several top creative and interactive development agencies,” said Karen Olson, vice president of marketing, Space Needle. “We pushed beyond what we thought was possible to offer our guests -- and locals alike -- experiences that are totally unique, memorable, and shareable. We’re heightening our guests’ ability to discover Seattle with new experiences that deliver more interaction, insights, connections, smiles and wow."
This project was several years in the making. The Space Needle organization took a year to complete the concepts and launch them into development and production. Then, Olson assembled a dream team of experts, an “Oceans 11” of bringing the best of each expertise to the table to pull off an amazing project, she says.
"We’re listening to our guests and we’re looking to the future," says Olson. "Our guests have been bringing 'little computers' in their pockets for years. They come with smart phones and tablets in hand. Their expectations have changed. They don’t just use their devices for calling and directions any more. They use their devices to enhance their vacations. So it only made sense that we developed a mobile app and digital experiences that helped our Guests see Seattle in different ways."
The entry point for visitors is the Space Needle Mobile App, which serves as a guide and educational tool. Developed by creative agency Creature and technology firm Fuerte, the app enables users to book their visit, presents alternative views with augmented reality, and helps visitors locate and learn about additional key points of interest in town.
Through the app, guests are able to point their iPhone or Android phone at one of several unique “Space Spots” on the ground and experience “augmented reality" with fireworks and space ships. Production company Voda Studios helped to develop the video and photography, and capture services for this experience.
Working with Creature for creative direction and content production and tech firm Belle & Wissel, design firm Stimulant designed and developed the 520 Teleporter digital kiosks, which instantly "teleport" guests from where they stand, 520 feet in the air, down to other notable locations in Seattle. These digital kiosks incorporate Microsoft’s Photosynth technology to recreate places in high-quality resolution and full 3D.
For instance, the Pike Place Market features fish flying through the air into a crowd of onlookers, and users are able to virtually climb aboard one of the houseboats made famous by the film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Guests can also take a 360 degree tour of “never seen before” experiences at the octopus tank at the Seattle Aquarium and via an athlete's viewpoint for the Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field.
Entrepreneurial consulting company Idea Gateway, Olson Kundig Architects, Streamline Studios, and Group Delphi, which installs interpretive designs and displays, also worked on these kiosks.
"Long-term relevancy of any digital installation is critical," says Nathan Moody, Design Director, Stimulant. "As technology opens up new possibilities for rich experiences, we can update the software application itself without incurring any additional hardware or construction costs. Even if a new method of sensing a visitor's presence is desired, sensors are so inexpensive and reasonably universal that even hardware can be added cheaply and efficiently. This makes bespoke digital experiences extremely cost effective over the lifetime of a physical installation."
At the same time, creative technology studio OK Rocket worked with Creature, Idea Gateway, Belle & Wissel and Fuerte to develop the SpaceBook, an online Needle memory book that stores photos. Each entrance ticket is embedded with a code that unlocks a unique digital photo experience. And visitors can also step into the picture and put their arms around the Needle for a photo or walk on a virtual glass floor.
Meanwhile, Belle & Wissel, Olson Kundig Architects, Creature, Streamline Studios, and contracting company Schuchart collaborated to introduce the 20’ x 8’ digital touchscreen SkyPadTM - known as the Digital Media Wall - that displays thousands of photos of visits to the Space Needle from the early 60s to today. On the Observation Deck, guests can post photos of their own experience or pin their hometown on a digital globe, showing others who have visited from the same location.
The Space Needle is also introducing two additional photo experiences, a SkyHigh Selfie and a ZoomieTM, the ultimate "zoom selfie."
This high-level of corporate involvement presented many challenges. For one, timing was an issue. "We didn’t want to miss summer," says Olson. "So, to do that, we set up a project team that worked in parallel – a team that worked on the app (across all platforms), the interactive touch screen wall, the view-based kiosks, and the photo kiosks –all at the same time. We stacked our team to hit our timeline. We doubled up on project managers, on interactive developers, on various platforms – and all executed in parallel, sharing key learnings across teams as we went." Then, there was the challenge of cross-communication. "It took a tremendous amount of collaboration and flexibility from our partners – and they did it. Everyone came to the table to develop and launch amazing experiences. Which we did. And we made it for summer. And according to our Guests, it’s a hit," says Olson.
This new technology will be promoted in advertising, though Olson says the main draw is still the architecture. "So we do talk about our new digital experiences, but we know that’s not the reason they’d be coming to the Space Needle. It’s just something that will add to their experience."