Stadtgeschichten: A location-aware audio guide


During summer 2015, I worked with the liberal arts student Sabine Hack and the writer Nico Czaja on a prototype of a location-aware audio guide at the xm:lab at Saarbrücken’s university of art and design Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (HBKsaar).

As devices with an integrated GPS sensor like smartphones and tablets are constantly becoming more ubiquitous and as most devices support the playback of audio files, new ways of story telling will emerge. A prototype of a location-based audio guide app called Stadtgeschichten was developed. It enables authors to create audio guides that trigger the playback of audio fragments upon visitation of pre-defined spots.

The storyteller can guide the user using environmental sounds whose volume is increased when the user approaches the desired destination and decreased if he heads in the wrong direction. Another possibility of guiding is the simple description of how to get to the destination. The storyteller can also create a puzzle by letting the user search the next destination.

A few helping features are offered for the case the user gets lost. If the listener has missed a detail, e.g. due to the noise of a passing by truck, he can look up the transcript on the device. If the listener does not know where to go next, he can look up the destination using an external app like Google Maps. This external app could also guide the user to this place.

The mobile application has been developed for Android devices. A special XML format was created; the app parses the selected story’s XML file and executes its different instructions. The localisation of the user’s device is achieved with GPS. As the device will stay in the user’s pocket during usage, the user interface design has been kept minimalistic and functional. It consists of the following and fits on one screen:

Screenshot of the prototype containing the bare minimum

Screenshot of the prototype containing the bare minimum

I published my last version of the prototype on Github under the MIT license. Afterwards, I was happy to hear that it was developed further under the name Storywalker by a working student. Visitors of the annual exhibition Rundgang 2016 of Saarbrücken’s university of art and design Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (HBKsaar) could even try out another prototype. A teaser of the final product called Hörspur is available: