How Technical Excellence and Collaboration enables Digital Innovation

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11 minute read
Ben Clayton

Ben Clayton

Technical Director

Digital Insights

Mobile Technology

Photo of a laptop in the dark, partially opened so the light from its screen lghts up - demonstrating technical excellence

Image: Joshua Reddekopp unsplash.com

Whether it’s developing an app to help reduce foreign object debris, a platform to supply PPE amid a global pandemic, or a mobile wayfinding system to help passengers with invisible impairments travel independently through train stations, innovation is embedded in everything Calvium does. 

The whole Calvium team ensures we always deliver projects of excellence for our clients. We do this by applying key skills to each project, working collaboratively and maintaining a high performance company culture. In this article, I highlight some of Calvium’s recent projects and showcase the technical development we undertook to deliver value for our clients.  

In-house design and delivery of whole systems

Our ability to design and deliver whole systems in-house is undoubtedly one of Calvium’s key strengths. Designing for user experience and user interface, and developing front and back-end software, ensures that all projects are driven to successful completion. 

Our breadth of skill and problem-solving capabilities can most recently be seen in the work we did for Bristol’s pioneering science centre, We The Curious. Their bold new exhibition, Project What If, has been inspired by the questions asked by residents of Bristol, making it a spectacle for curiosity. 

Calvium developed 33 applications for 25 separate exhibits, as well as creating the user experience and user interface design system – all while working collaboratively with our clients, We The Curious, and project partners Kossmann.dejong and Bruns

artists perception of how Project What If would look in We The Curious
Image: Kossman.dejong

 

Let’s take a look at one of the exhibits that was a real challenge to develop, the ‘John James Theatre of Curiosity’:

Over the years, We The Curious has built up a library of tens of thousands of questions asked by visitors, such as: ‘Why do rainbows make people happy?’ and ‘What if the sun stopped shining?’. Our task was to visualise these questions in a 3D way and display them on four huge screens suspended from the ceiling.

In a nutshell: the screen operates in two modes – ‘attract’ and ‘facilitator’. In attract mode, the screen automatically flies to questions and switches topics every few minutes. In facilitator mode, a science centre staff member can select a set of questions, present them on the screen and then choose which question is highlighted to provoke discussion for visitors in the session.

Photography by Lisa Whiting of the inside of Project What If exhibition
Image: Lisa Whiting Photography

Calvium designed and built this system using Three.js, a library commonly used for 3D animation games on the web. A key challenge was how to display the image across the four screens. The aim was to use a 360° view that would look like you’d just captured a panoramic image from your phone. This image would then be seamlessly ‘wrapped around’ the four screens.

We created a custom 360° viewer camera in Three.js to produce a real-time full wrap-around 360° view. This involved setting up four virtual cameras, each at the same location, pointing outwards, and each were turned such that they each covered 90° of the scene. The image captured by each one is then projected onto a cube and another virtual camera is placed within the cube to create the final image.

This is the first time – of which we’re aware – that this technique has been used in real-time in Three.js and we were thrilled with how the finished exhibition looked and worked!

However, my favourite exhibition from Project What If has to be ‘Can you tell the time without a watch or a clock?’ In this, the visitor’s body becomes a clock face, and their outstretched arm becomes the clock’s second hand. They’re challenged to count out a minute by moving their arm around in a circle (I had great fun doing this)! 

The challenge here was to make it work for visitors of different shapes and sizes. The solution was to use a 3D camera to track the user’s limbs. We could then centre the camera on the shoulder of the arm they were using, and zoom such that their hand reached the edge of the clock face.

Project What If really put our research, visual interface design and user experience capabilities to the test and we are all thrilled by how much we were able to achieve in a relatively short space of time (especially with the added challenges that came with Covid-19).

Human Clock - running in our Technical Director's home office
‘Can you tell the time without a watch or clock?’ – running in our Technical Director’s home office

Multi-stakeholder collaboration

Popmap 

Working collaboratively is rooted in everything we do. Our partnership with City ID and Bristol City Council on PopMap is another great example of what can be achieved when multiple partners bring together their collective expertise.

After securing funding from the Digital Placemaking Bristol+Bath Creative R&D Cluster, we were able to get to work on the not-so-simple task of developing a prototype web app that shows a detailed map of the cultural events and activities that are happening in Bristol, in real-time.

CityID had a specific way of building their custom maps for printed media using Illustrator and MapPublisher software and that was a challenge to translate into a digital format. But, together, we worked it out and the lovechild of physical and digital placemaking was born.

Our R&D partners played an integral part in the development of PopMap too. They were instrumental in getting feedback from a diverse set of people across the city, which was key to making PopMap a distinctly local Bristol voice and not a generic corporate one.

CLVM PopMap City ID map photo 2048x1143 1

NavSta

NavSta (Navigating Stations) is another example of how bringing together a team of specialists and working collaboratively plays a crucial role in pushing the boundaries of innovation.

In this instance, we worked in partnership with Transport for London (TfL), Open Inclusion and Connected Places Catapult to deliver a digital wayfinding solution that would help people with less visible impairments – such as autism, dementia and depression – navigate railway stations independently and with confidence.

By working closely with our project partners we were able to leverage the expertise of each partner to ensure the finished tool worked seamlessly for the end user. In this way the user experience of the NavSta mobile wayfinding app was informed by the intended users themselves and, despite being a digital product, it was not led by technology but by human factors.

NavSta went on to be highly commended in this year’s ‘Celebrating Neurodiversity Awards’ ‘Neurodiverse Research of the Year’ category – further demonstrating that specialist collaboration really does enable the best innovation.

NavSta interface

Problem-solving

i.Detroit

At Calvium, we pride ourselves on being able to find solutions to even the most challenging problems. Using team skills and collaboration is, in our experience, the most effective way to do this and our partnership with acclaimed British artist Marcus Lyon on his i.Detroit project is a prime example of the brilliant things we can achieve when we put our heads together.

As part of his ‘Human Atlas’ journey – a series of projects that map, collate and interview groups of inspirational people all over the world – Marcus and his team analysed 100 Detroiters of all ages, races and backgrounds who are pushing forward social change. He then traced their generational migration to the city and interviewed each one to record their personal stories.

Our job was to develop an interactive mobile app that would enrich a viewer’s experience of the portraits and tell their stories through photography and sound. We needed to figure out how to create an audio experience that seamlessly integrates with the visual elements of the book and exhibition, i.e. when a user scans a portrait with the camera on her phone, the voice of the subject will play and their story in their own words can be heard.

It sounds simple but it took painstaking experimentation to create such a smooth experience. We needed to train a machine learning algorithm that would enable the app to recognise each of the hundred portraits. In the end, we were able to create an app that Marcus said not only opens the audience to another level of experience of his Human Atlas Project on the City of Detroit, but does so, so simply and powerfully, that the tech is invisible.

 

Within the book you’ve got your traditional portraits. But then we’ve developed an app; when you scan the device across a portrait, that activates a soundscape, and the portrait begins to talk back to you. So what you have, as the audience, is a relationship with that person. You begin to get a deeper sense of who they are. Rather than the portrait being the chattel of the viewers, you’ve got this opportunity to create a dynamic connection between people.

Marcus Lyon

Hidden Cities

Our Hidden Cities project has been six years in the making. The latest product is an immersive experience allowing visitors to view the streets of Valencia, Exeter, Hamburg, Deventer and Trento through the lens of history; with fictional characters leading visitors through the cultural heritage of these European cities.

One of the key challenges was designing for multi-language support. We were working with six languages – English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and Catalan – and this meant we had additional technical considerations to think about, not least figuring out the best approach to create an app that functions seamlessly regardless of the chosen language. My colleague, Matt, has written a great article on developing multi-language apps that covers some key considerations: read more here.

We worked with academic teams across five different universities for the duration of the project. So this is a story of collaboration too. Without this, the innovation seen in this project would have been much longer in the making. In fact, Calvium’s Jo Morrison is speaking at the prestigious international conference MuseWeb2021 in April – alongside Prof. Fabrizio Nevola of the University of Exeter.

HiddenCities CaseStudyImagery 03
Hidden Cities App

Company culture

I hope the above examples clearly show that Calvium tackles challenges logically, head-on and that we will always go above and beyond to find solutions to any difficulties we encounter along the innovation pipeline. 

It goes without saying that this could not be done without an outstanding team of problem-solvers that work together and collaborate across different disciplines.

We are computer scientists and researchers, designers, developers and project managers. We are diverse in our backgrounds, our experience and our people.

What brings us together is our drive to innovate and transform the capabilities of the businesses we work with. From creating value for our clients and maintaining a reputation for excellence, to operating with integrity and rewarding those who invest effort, skill and time in the business’s success, we live by our shared values, which underpin the experience of our clients and their customers.

Calvium is built on trust, honesty, transparency and respect. Our high performance culture and client-first approach means we strive to deliver solutions our clients truly value.

We were thrilled to be shortlisted for UK App Agency of the Year (Medium) in 2020’s UK App Awards and, more recently, for two awards in the UK’s SPARKies 2020 awards and two more in the UK Dev Awards 2021. This is testament to our brilliant team and the role our company culture plays in ensuring the success of the business.

Conclusion

From pioneering cultural projects like We The Curious and i.Detroit, to digital placemaking projects underpinned by research such as PopMap and NavSta, to working with multi-nationals like Rolls-Royce in aerospace and defence, Calvium is committed to delivering high-quality work across sectors.

Being a team of problem-solvers from a range of different creative and technical backgrounds and with varied skill-sets means we can work efficiently internally and with our clients to deliver first-rate innovative solutions.

We pride ourselves on being leaders in mobile innovation and we will strive to improve in everything we do so we can always be the best partner to our clients. Get in touch to discuss how we can use our design and technical prowess to deliver your business’s digital strategy.

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