Major international sporting events always draw the world’s attention, and along with achievements on the track and pitch, many events are becoming a showcase for the host nation, and a testbed for new technologies, and an app developed by Khatib & Alami not only transformed the way thousands of people moved around the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi, but also demonstrated the city’s emerging credentials as a regional leader in smart city technology.
While some technologies are confined to the sporting arena, many cities are now taking the opportunity to test out new technologies to help manage the large number of visitors, increase the efficiency and usability of transport systems or venues, and provide new ways for fans to experience the event.
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, which took place on 14-21 March, utilised a number of technology solutions, both behind the scenes and in user-facing scenarios. These included smart wayfinding and information solutions developed by consultancy Khatib & Alami, as reported by Construction Week's sister title Smart Cities Arabia.
The games brought together more than 7,500 athletes from 195 participating nations, along with 20,000 volunteers.
Smart navigation tools, which included information kiosks and in-app navigation across 10 different venues for the games, were deployed to help these attendees get the most from their visit and locate important facilities and event venues, particularly as some venues, such as the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), played host to a number of different athletic programmes.
Khatib & Alami, an official partner of the games, developed two main systems for the Special Olympics: the in-app navigation, which included augmented reality (AR) features, and information kiosks, which also included navigation capabilities and a chatbot.
Ten venues were covered by the app, while 26 kiosks were deployed for nine of these venues.
The solutions were developed by Khatib & Alami’s geographic systems integration (GSI) department, using its Way Plus wayfinding solution. Based on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, Way Plus uses floor plans of venues – usually Autocad drawings – which are converted into geographic information system (GIS) models, to create the basis for the navigation service. The client solution runs on a web browser to provide indoor navigation services and other information for users.
MOBILE NAVIGATION APPS
The navigation application that was developed for the event by Khatib & Alami uses a mobile phone’s inbuilt global positioning system (GPS) to locate the user. If a venue has its own beacons, however, location accuracy can be improved down to one metre, which helps to provide richer and more accurate services for users.
For the World Games Abu Dhabi, the Way Plus navigation service was built into the official app – the first official app to have been developed for a Special Olympics World Games. Approximately 32,000 users accessed the service during the course of the week-long event.
The navigation app also included AR features, powered by Apple ARKit and Android ARCore.
AR was provided during the event to allow users to browse different facilities, such as games locations, spectator areas, taxi and bus stands, washrooms, prayer rooms, and food facilities, with the app showing related pins on the screen to guide users.
The same Way Plus system was utilised for the kiosks, which included touchscreen navigation and an integrated chatbot.
The kiosks were used more than 50,000 times during the course of the event, mainly at Adnec, the main venue for the event. Kiosk users mostly utilised the service to locate different facilities within the sprawling venue, which has 12 exhibition halls.
Senior director of Khatib & Alami’s geospatial systems integration team, Manal Sayed, said that the smart tools that were developed for the event showcased some of the latest wayfinding technologies.
“The app is incredibly easy to use, because it includes an AR feature, which is a significant step up from most of the pedestrian wayfinding applications that people are familiar with,” Sayed added.
“It can directly tell you which way to turn while looking at your surroundings, instead of at a map, which can be more reassuring and helpful. The inclusion of a chatbot is important – it provides an intuitive experience for users, thanks to advanced artificial intelligence technology,” he continued.
The chatbot provided by Khatib & Alami was also based on Microsoft Azure and its Bot Framework. It used Language Understanding (Luis), a natural language processing technology, also from Microsoft, Sayed explained.
These capabilities allowed for interaction with the chatbot via voice, touchscreen, and keyboard inputs. The chatbot was capable of replying in text and spoken word formats.
“We are able to incorporate any character or avatar into the app,” Sayed told Smart Cities Arabia, a sister title of Construction Week.
“For the games, the avatar character used was [the event’s mascot,] Rabdan the horse, which has cultural significance in the UAE. Rabdan was the celebrated mount of Zayed the First; a gift from the Sharif of Makkah, Abdullah bin Hashem; and said to be descended from the horse of the Prophet Muhammed. Rabdan was the subject of several poems, and his bloodline is still present in horses ridden by the ruling Nahyan family.”
Another application that Khatib & Alami provided for people attending the event was a storytelling app.
This allowed the user to record their journey through the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi on social media platforms, and to view trip routes, save memories, and share their experiences with friends via Twitter and Facebook, or on the app itself.
Users were able to view their current location on the displayed map, along with all trip statistics. They could then share the URL for their journey via SMS or WhatsApp, allowing the recipient to also view the journey on their chosen storytelling app or in any web browser.
“We gathered feedback from users during and after the games. We found that users enjoyed the storytelling app.
“The general consensus was that they liked being able to record their voice notes and videos and have them automatically placed on the route,” Sayed noted.
It was vital to ensure that the services provided were accessible and easy to use. Design and functions were tailored for maximum accessibility, Sayed added.
“Ease of use for anyone and everyone is a key design principle of the app, and also the kiosks. This was reflected in the technology provided for them.
“In the case of the app, we provided voice interaction for the chatbot, to aid the visually impaired. Moreover, we ensured that the user interface was as clean as possible, with large icons and visual indicators to ensure maximum usability,” he explained.
“We also added extra details to the map, to show the exact facilities, such as football fields, basketball courts, exits, and spectator areas, to ensure that users could easily differentiate locations by colour, shape, and labels.”
Chairman and chief executive officer of Khatib & Alami, Dr Najib Khatib, said: “We were delighted to be playing our part in the delivery of the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in the region.
“The key to the success of any smart technology is that it should be easily accessible and user-friendly – these are measures that our experts are applying to ensure that the tools we are providing add to the experience of everyone at the event, whether they are participants, organisers, or spectators,” he continued.
“The games are bringing together tens of thousands of people from across the world, so it provides an exciting opportunity to draw on the full potential of smart wayfinding technologies to help people get the most out of their visit.”