Train wreck


Doing something new and different and not being afraid of failing.

We had a big idea…

We are trialling visitor tracking using beacon technology and I would like to talk about our successes (but mostly failures!) in the project so far. I’ll explain how we went about trialling the technology, what failed, how and why it failed, and how we are using this valuable information to improve the project and make some changes before we embark on the second trial.

Presented by Amelia BowanAustralian National Maritime Museum.




Hi everyone, my name is Amelia, and I work here at the National Maritime Museum in the learning team. My talk today is about audience and evaluation, with a little bit of digital too.

Today, I want to talk to you about my project using beacon technology to track visitor movement in exhibitions and galleries. We’ve never used this technology before, so it was an exciting experiment for us. We wanted to know where visitors go once they buy their admission ticket. I won’t go into technical detail about beacons. Essentially, you need a beacon and a mobile device.

The beacons are positioned at fixed points within a space and exchange data with your smartphone when in range. When a visitor walks within range of a beacon, we can collect and analyse this data to anonymously track their movement within the galleries. Normally, you would place beacons inside the galleries and have visitors walk around within the gallery space carrying their mobile devices. We didn’t have devices to hand out, or a roll-out strategy, or signage, or any of that stuff. And based on our research, we thought that asking our visitors to download an app would be a barrier to the project.

So we placed iPods in the museum, preloaded with an app and gave visitors beacons instead of cloakroom tags. This allowed us to take ownership of the issues that mobile devices encounter, such as Wi-Fi connection, data allowances, and battery life, and have a bit more control. We placed the iPods in four locations in the museum. At our front of house, which is where the visitor first arrives. At the entry to our Voyage to the Deep exhibition. At the exhibition exit, which is via a small gift shop. And we put one in our new under-5s kid space Mini Mariners Play!

The project failed, and is affectionately known as #beaconfail. This is why. Our museum supports a Windows environment. Our decision to use iPods placed us outside our IT department’s advice, so we had to make our own way. We chose to use the public Wi-Fi, which kicks you off after about 15 minutes of inactivity. This meant that the devices couldn’t send the data they collected in real time. To overcome this, I had to check in each day and manually connect them to our Wi-Fi, which was a big challenge.

One of the iPods wouldn’t connect at all, and had to send it back to our tech partner for major surgery before we could include it in the project. Our public Wi-Fi also restricts access to the Apple store, so when our tech project partners needed me to download some things, I couldn’t do it. Before I could even begin to download anything, I had to create Apple IDs, make up fake secret questions and answers. I ended up having to take the devices home to complete the downloads.

It caused significant delays, and I probably wore out my welcome with our very patient tech partners. Because we owned the devices, we had to manage their battery life. Three of the devices were near power points, so we had them connected to chargers, which worked really well. One of them wasn’t, so I had a battery pack, which I checked in daily to change out and recharge. We didn’t use Apple branded battery packs, and they didn’t always connect or charge smoothly.

We gave our front of house team the box of beacons as is and asked them to hand them instead of cloakroom tags. And it turned out, this was not enough preparation or support. We’d seen samples of much smaller beacons, but when we got the delivery, the beacons looked like this.


What is this?


They didn’t look like cloakroom tags, and visitors questioned why they were being given them.


They had no numbers on them. They didn’t fit in visitors’ pockets. And our front-of-house team ended up spending a lot of time trying to explain what they were and convinced visitors to take them.

We trialled during the school holidays, which is a time when we have a high visitor volume. We thought this would be really great as we would be able to capture a lot of data. But in reality, it put pressure on our front of house team during their busiest time, and they couldn’t devote resources to explaining why visitors should take a weird looking cloaking tag. As a result, we didn’t handout enough beacons, or gather enough data, to result in a successful trial.

We learned that we need to make some changes to our project before we begin the next iteration. We need to bring in our front-of-house team much more and give them more support. We need smaller beacons that are properly prepared to operate as cloakroom tags. And we need to explore ways to overcome our internal IT issues.

So my take home message today is don’t be afraid of trying and failing with new technology and ideas. We discovered what succeeded and what failed, and we’re using this valuable information to improve the project and make some changes before we embark on the second trial. Working with new technology is not always going to run smoothly. Every one encounters IT problems, and it doesn’t matter. The point was to try something different and new, and we achieved this.






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