HITLab app explores the Tamar Estuary
Research brought to life with technology
Years of research into the Tamar River estuary by Natural Resources Management North's (NRM North) Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers (TEER) program has been brought to life by an app designed by the UTAS Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLab) in Launceston.
Released in the first instance as an annual report card on the health of the Tamar estuary, the results of the ecosystem health assessment were this year taken a major step further with the development of the TamAR Augmented Reality app, which was demonstrated on 28 November at the launch of the Tamar estuary 2012 report card at the North Esk Boatshed in Launceston.
The app itself was officially launched in The Examiner on Sunday 2 December.
The free app (available through Apple's App Store - search 'tamar') relies on a tracking map of the Tamar Valley, which can be downloaded from NRM North's web page, and once the app is downloaded to an iPhone or iPad the device becomes a window to the wildlife in and around the river, the water quality and various forms of human infrastructure and inputs such as stormwater and treated water entry points, and various plant life above and below the water line.
Users can explore the five zones of the river from the mouth to the upper estuary, visit Tamar Island, dive underwater to find out about resident fish and seals and read fact boxes about things they see and touch.
The 2012 Tamar estuary report card becomes easily accessible and understandable by a wider demographic and there is potential for future applications for the app, which gives an outstanding interpretation of the river and surrounds, within the tourism industry and by local government.
A HITLab team of four, led by Senior research manager and honorary associate with the UTAS School of Computing and Information Systems Dr Robert Rowe, has been working on the app since the start of the year.
Thomas Grayston has been the software developer and Felicity Brown and Shannon Woolley have been working on 3D modelling, with the whole team collaborating with NRM North's TEER program manager Amanda Locatelli and the TEER team.
It's the HITLab's first externally funded project but Dr. Rowe hopes that the success of the TamAR app will spawn many more as the concept of interactive, 3D education through tablets and smart phones grows in popularity.
"North CEO James McKee was inspired after visiting the HITLab in 2010 and seeing what HITLab New Zealand had achieved with the Magic Book project and he commented that it would be a great way to enhance their next Tamar estuary report card," Dr Rowe said.
"North is very happy with what we have done and the HITLab team is proud of what we have achieved on what was an extremely tight budget - I think we've achieved much more than anyone expected," he said.
"Now we will turn our attention to some rigorous testing to see if the app increases user engagement like we hypothesised as well as how it is being used and by whom and eventually we'll publish a paper on what we find."
The android version of the app will be ready by March 2013.
Image: Senior research manager in the North and honorary associate with the UTAS School of Computing and Information Systems Dr. Robert Rowe shows how to use the new TamAR Augmented Reality app.