AR community trail launched in Bukit Gombak as part of S'pore's digitalisation initiative

Minister of State Low Yen Ling (fourth from left) posing for an augmented reality photo yesterday with Bukit Gombak residents. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

SINGAPORE - A new Bukit Gombak walking trail enhanced with virtual reality (VR) features was launched on Saturday (July 2).

Using smartphones, residents and visitors to the neighbourhood can learn more about 15 community landmarks such as the scenic Little Guilin and other locations by scanning displayed QR codes and playing games at the spots.

The new Heartland Gems @ South West Augmented Reality (AR) Trail was launched by Ms Low Yen Ling, South West District Mayor and Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Culture, Community and Youth, on Saturday.

Ms Low said: "This unique augmented reality trail lets residents and visitors experience and enjoy the local history, culture and heritage of Bukit Gombak with the help of technology."

The trail was developed by the South West Community Development Council, non-profit company Corporate Alliance for Good, location-based and AR/VR solutions provider LDR Technology and the SG Digital Office, which spearheads the Government's push for digitalisation in the community.

The project also involved seven Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) students, who also helped to come up with a logo.

Through the Locomole mobile app and QR codes placed along the trail, participants can listen to the stories of hawkers and merchants in the area, and take photographs with 3D AR objects.

Visitors interact digitally with the spaces around them by superimposing 3D AR objects on their surroundings through the camera. The technology was popularised by games such as Pokemon Go.

The 15 locations include popular eateries such as Habib Family Restaurant, which serves Singapore's first halal bak kut teh, shops such as Pretty Sugar and neighbourhood landmarks such as Bukit Gombak Stadium.

Sin Chwee Mini Market, one of the locations, was founded in 1980 and is known among residents for being a traditional wet market stall with an online store. Trail participants will not only get to read about its history but can also take pictures with an AR red snapper or stingray at the stall using their phones.

On Saturday, 40 Bukit Gombak senior residents were among the first to check out the trail. They visited five checkpoints.

Madam Png Bee Geok, 68, said: "I don't really use my phone for anything except calls, so I'm happy I get to learn how to use my phone to do more things like scan QR codes and take pictures."

But, as the app-only guide is in English, which is not her first language, she had to get her daughter to translate the information into Chinese.

The housewife added that she plans to eventually visit all 15 locations with her friends as she had a lot of fun on the trail and enjoys spending time in the community.

Bukit Gombak residents Png Bee Geok (second from left) and Quek Ee Soon (second from right) being shown show how to use the AR features and QR codes. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Accountant Quek Peijun, 38, who was also at the trail on Saturday, said: "I got to see the places I frequent from a different perspective, which makes me more eager to learn about the things in my neighbourhood."

SG Digital Office digital ambassadors, youth volunteers from Institute of Technical Education College West and Boys' Brigade members from Swiss Cottage Secondary School were on hand to show the less digitally savvy trail visitors how to use the AR features and QR codes.

Second-year student Gerald Chong, 25, who was in the SIT team that helped plan the trail, said the biggest challenge was making the digital content accessible to the less tech-savvy.

LDR Technology chief executive Png Bee Hin, whose company provided its service for free, said the whole process - from brainstorming to the launch of the AR trail - took three weeks. The team had interviewed residents to learn which Bukit Gombak landmarks were significant to them.

The trail was conceived to support the Digital for Life (DfL) movement, which was started last year to encourage Singaporeans to embrace digitalisation and build a digitally inclusive society together.

Ms Low said: "I think this will be a very memorable experience for everyone as our seniors experience technology in a new way, and our young volunteers have the chance to impart their wisdom in technology to the old."

Mr Douglas Goh, director of the SG Digital Office and Digital for Life secretariat, said the SDO is motivated to roll out more AR trails in the heartland. "We are a small country but also uniquely different from area to area, so there is more to explore," he added.

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