Today we arranged a private site visit to Oulton Broad to collect images for our project. The graphic communication students took photos of textures of common bits of nature such as trees and they also wanted to get some more general images of the site that satisfied each of the three themes. They also wanted to look at the signage that is present at the site. Myself and the other BSc students were using the Samsung Gear 360 camera to take some test 360 degree images to test a ‘360 degree image experience’ out on-site (eventually these images will be made into a working prototype that can be tested on-site).

Ameer, Naomi and I visited Oulton Broad on January 25th when we visited Carlton Marshes and Somerleyton Brick Works – Corrina, Chloe and Zach from graphic communication hadn’t visited the site before.

Why Oulton Broad?

Oulton Broad has been suggested as a location to test out our experience ideas for the following reasons:

  • It is accessible by road and train easily – so we can get there.
  • Being on the edge of Lowestoft, the second-most populous town in Suffolk, there are a lot of people we can conduct ethnographic research on.
  • There are currently no interpretation boards at the site detailing some of its history or relation to the Angles Way.

We certainly had no problem reaching the site from Norwich – we drove. It took half an hour or so straight down the A146 and we found parking signposted from the main road (A117, Lowestoft eastern bypass) and it was £5 for 3 hours – not too expensive. Apparently there are free parking options available too. The car park was located very close to the broad itself which is on the Angles Way. We noted that the town was quite busy with it being a suburb of Lowestoft (the second most populous place in Suffolk, second only to its county town, Ipswich) and we also noted that although there is a decent level of signage showing the Angles Way, there is little in the way of interpretation boards.

Signage and graphic communication

Walking on the footpath (it’s an unsigned route called ‘Freshwater Way’) over the lock that separates Oulton Broad from Lake Lothing there is some signage that shows walkers the direction of the Angles Way and informs them that they are walking the page. Like the signs seen in Beccles town centre and Somerleyton and numerous other locations we have visited, the signs are quite small and green with white lettering – there definitely seems to be a set identity. Perhaps the signs could be larger or if not larger then maybe more of them could located in more rural areas to help guide users. The fingerposts could also be an ideal location to place a QR code that a walker or user could scan with their phone to access our web app.

Signage at Oulton Broad features the same identity as that found in Beccles and other locations.

What make this particular fingerpost sign more interesting than some of the other ones that we have seen is that beneath it locations on the Angles Way are shown (and their distances). This is good because it gives the walker an idea of where they are heading which could give them a focus, but we wonder if people plan walks and journeys in terms of time rather than distance. However, this is more fitting with road signs where distances are always given.

The best example of signs where distances are used are route confirmation signs which list the distances to key destinations on a road. Pictured: A90, Stonehaven Junction, Scotland.

In addition to this sign, there are smaller signs on a fingerpost just outside of the Wherry Hotel, situated just off the A117 road. Perhaps the Wherry Hotel is known as a place for walkers to stop and have a meal or drink?

Angles Way signs on a fingerpost outside the Wherry Hotel in Oulton Broad, Lowestoft.

In the small park area by the broad (which also forms part of the Angles Way), we noticed that there was a large tourist information sign which pointed out many useful facilities and locations (including Carlton Marshes!) but we felt that the white icons on the lime green background would be difficult to read. We struggled to read them stood at the bottom of the sign looking up, so felt that from a distance they’d be very difficult to read! The icons are a nice way to describe what facilities are available at each site, as long as the icons can be read easily and are ‘generic’, i.e. can be understood.

This sign is very nice and modern and features strong identity (tied into the fingerpost signs), but the icons are hard to interpret.

It’s interesting to note that Suffolk County Council had decided to use time instead of distance on these signs – clearly they feel that tourist information signs like these work best with time rather than distances to show how far places are. I guess these are all locations that are relatively close to the sign, whereas it’d probably take around 4 hours to walk to Beccles or Somerleyton from Oulton Broad – it doesn’t sound as appealing.

Corrina, Zach, Naomi and Chloe analyse the sign.

The graphics students also took plenty of photographs of the area to document textures and evidence of the three themes in the area. Corrina brought her Nikon along and took photos of textures of tree trunks (she noted that Silver Birches were very common in the area), photos of the birds and ducks in the area and evidence of cultural heritage such as derelict jetties at Lake Lothing on the other side of the lock separating Oulton Broad and Lake Lothing and the ex malt houses which are now residential properties.

Corrina taking photos of derelict jetties in Lake Lothing, Oulton Broad.

 

Derelict jetties in Lake Lothing will definitely have some kind of cultural heritage that could be explored. They are potentially an interesting landmark that people may not know about.

 

Ameer and Zach got rather ‘at one with nature’ at Oulton Broads today.

They’ll use these images and textures for the app and to draw inspiration to create the UI and brand identity of the Angles Way.

Creating 360 degree images

We had been tasked with visiting Oulton Broad to find some locations where we could test 360 degree image experiences. We needed to find some locations that we could tell a user to stand at, open the app and experience the 360 degree view so that they would be able to compare whatever is on the 360 degree image to what they can see in the environment. The bandstand, the bridge going over a small pond, a jetty at the edge of the water, opposite the old malt houses and a large clock on the edge of the water would be suitable places to instruct the user to open the 360 app. These are all static locations that are not going to change and are all easy to access and very obvious to the user.

The jetty was one of the locations we took a 360 degree image.

 

The ex malt houses were also a good location.

To capture these images, I mounted the Gar 360 on my tripod (MeFOTO Roadtrip) and removed the strap that the camera comes with to stop it from being in the frame. Naomi suggested that I try out the Gear 360 app on my phone and use that to frame the images and to trigger the remote shutter, so I did. The app downloaded quickly at Oulton Broad on 4G and is a nice little app that allows you to take photos and videos and stitch them together in-app (without the need for additional software). It was also handy having the live view which allowed us to frame the image and see if we were in frame after we had hid behind trees and bins and other objects to conceal ourselves.

The Samsung Gear 360 app allowed us to compose the images before we took them.

By tapping and dragging on the live view, we could pan around the 360 degree field of view and see what was in frame.

The only problem with this app was that because it uses Bluetooth to communicate to the camera, it did wear my phone battery down very quickly. By the time I got home my battery was at around 15% and I hadn’t been using it much throughout the day other than to take photos with the Gear 360. My phone is also connected to my Samsung smartwatch via Bluetooth, so it’s possible that this didn’t help. The battery on the camera itself also went down too. It went from 19% to flat in about 20 minutes. This meant that the camera had died before we had the chance to photograph all of the locations that we wanted, in hindsight I should have thought to charge the camera before we went out.

The Samsung Gear 360 app produces an equirectangular 5472×2736 pixel image which in theory can be placed into the 360 degree image JavaScript web app that I played with on March 7th and be made interactive. Below is an image stitched by the Samsung app.

Oulton Broad as stitched by the Samsung Gear 360 app.

For the sake of comparison, below is the same 360 degree image from the Gear 360 but stitched using Nadir Stitch – a free web service that does the 360 degree image stitching.

The same image, but this time stitched with Nadir Stitch.

It’s interesting to see how the different pieces of software stitch the image differently. They’re using slightly different perspectives but each suffers from the same problem, which is that the tripod – or whatever is underneath the camera – is also photographed. As I was walking around with my tripod I was thinking to myself that I could have just used the monopod section of it (it is a convertible tripod/monopod design), but in hindsight using a tripod was a smarter idea in the end because it meant that we didn’t need to somebody to hold it whilst we ran away and hid. It seems that we did an effective job at hiding as we aren’t really noticeable in any of the photos, but it’s going to take a lot of careful Photoshopping to remove the tripod.

I feel that the Gear 360 app did a cleaner job at stitching the images together with less distortion and colour variations – and it saves the need to manually download the image from the camera then upload it to a website to stitch, then save it. In the app all I need to do is tap on ‘Save as standard image’ and it saves the stitched JPEG which I can then just copy off my phone.

Here are the other images we took, stitched by the Samsung Gear 360 app.

Area by the footbridge over the small pond. Naomi had hoped to capture some wildlife in this image.

 

Inside the bandstand.

I didn’t use the app to stitch all of the images, so the ones below are done with Nadir Stitch.

On the footbridge over the pond, stitched by Nadir Stitch.

 

On the edge of the jetty, stitched by Nadir Stitch.

As mentioned earlier, Oulton Broad is more of an ‘acceptance testing site’ than a ‘deployment site’. If these work here then the experience can be replicated at other sites and improved too – Jamie has talked about using a more advanced 360 degree camera to capture the images for example and time would be spent in Photoshop or similar software removing the unwanted tripod from the frame.

It was a fun afternoon out and once again the 360 degree camera was good fun! Several members of the public came up to ask about what we were doing and were fascinated by how the little camera worked and the project as a whole. It’s funny how you can walk around with a big Nikon D500 hanging around your neck, but really the little Samsung Gear 360 is what people are fascinated by because they’ve never seen anything like it before! Naomi was even able to conduct some further ethnographic research from a resident of Oulton Broad who told her how long it to walk to certain places and how busy the area becomes – apparently on certain days of the week they even have picnic benches out in this little park that we spent most of this afternoon in!

The end of a long day… the sunset at the end of the day.

…and some team bonding!

Last night (Monday 18th) I invited everybody round to my house to enjoy some pizza, courtesy of Ameer. It was really nice to be able to chat outside of uni or a field trip about non-work related topics and enjoy some comedy shows on Netflix and listen to some music whilst eating pizza and chatting and laughing. We’re all really getting along really well and are enjoying each other’s company! Apparently the three graphics students didn’t really know each other at all before this project, so this has brought them together and of course introduced us to them too. We’re becoming good friends!

I think it’s actually important to have socials like this, hence why I’m taking the time to write about it. You don’t necessarily need to be ‘best buddies’ with your co-workers and spend hours watching TV and eating pizza with them, but you do need to be able to get along and know who you’re working with to form some kind of relationship, else group work is intolerable. Thankfully it seems like we have a relationship with each other that isn’t ‘strictly uni-only’, which is even better. Getting to know everybody on a personal level has been great!

We also had a quick bite to eat and some drinks at the Wherry Hotel whilst we were out today – another little social!

Team bonding over Netflix and pizza is a crucial part of the project! If you can’t work with your peers and get along with them, the whole project goes down the pan!

What’s next?

Tomorrow (Wednesday 20th) I need to spend some time doing bits and pieces for the Storehouse magazine – including starting to draft a post all about it! I also need to look into jQuery Mobile so that on Friday I am ready to begin coding a prototype for testing. It’s all come round so fast!

We also have people from the Broads Authority visiting us this week – notably an ecology specialist on Thursday 21st and possibly somebody to demonstrate the Wi-Fi boxes which we had a quick look at last week whilst presenting at the Broads Authority, but we hope to get a deeper view this time.