Private transport firm launches GPS-guided tours around Singapore

Minister of State for Trade & Industry Mr Teo Ser Luck (extreme left), looks at the television screen that indicates the upcoming nearby destination as the details of the location are played over the sound system, during the maiden bus tour of th
Minister of State for Trade & Industry Mr Teo Ser Luck (extreme left), looks at the television screen that indicates the upcoming nearby destination as the details of the location are played over the sound system, during the maiden bus tour of the city and Chinatown area. Private transport operator Bus Hub has launched a satellite-tracked "virtual tour guide system" that plays videos on its trips around local tourist spots. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN  

Welcome, your tour guide today will be... virtual

Private transport operator Bus Hub has launched a satellite-tracked "virtual tour guide system" that plays videos on its trips around local tourist spots.

The short clips - with commentary - start up when an on-board global positioning system detects that the bus is nearing certain attractions.

Bus Hub managing director V Anilan says the system, which took two years and $100,000 to develop, is aimed at independent travellers, "who make up about 40 per cent of tourists".

Bus Hub's Singapore Attractions Express network serves such travellers.

On average, it shuttles about 12,000 passengers a month between all major tourist attractions and the city centre.

Mr Anilan said the system works even when scheduled routes are changed, as the appropriate video is triggered by GPS signals, making the patented technology "more useful" than pre-recorded clips activated by drivers.

While he said the innovation means cost savings to tour operators, "it is not meant to replace the tour guide".

"There will be things which this system cannot do, and only a person can," added Mr Anilan. "It is more like a tour guide's assistant."

That is not how some tour guides see it.

Ms Jean Wang, honorary secretary of the Society of Tourist Guides, said yesterday: "There are different kinds of tourists, with different budgets. There will always be a group who appreciates a real-life guide."

She added that automated tour guide systems "are not very personalised" and "you can't ask a virtual guide a question, for instance".

Mr Anilan sees more opportunity down the road, with versions plans for cycling and walking tours.

The technology can also be applied to car rentals and even public bus services - in the form of MRT-like destination information.

"Car rental companies are already offering satellite navigation. This can be an add-on," said Mr Anilan, an SMRT veteran who started Bus Hub eight years ago.

The firm owns 15 buses and runs 20 services. Besides tour buses, it also operates four premium bus services for residents in Yio Chu Kang, Seletar, Yishun and Sembawang.

Mr Anilan said the company is looking to develop a more advanced version of the virtual tour guide system that will allow the control centre "to see what the driver and crew see".

The system was launched yesterday by Mr Teo Ser Luck, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry and mayor of North East District.

christan@sph.com.sg