Finding hidden gems with unique GPS tours
Modern Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have given us many reasons to be grateful. We can find out wherever we are in the world, we can play Pokemon Go and this technology has probably halved the amount of couple arguments due to getting lost on long, unfamiliar road trips. On top of all of this they have also given us guided GPS tour.
When visiting a new country or city it can sometimes be hard to find the undiscovered treats that you won’t find at all the usual tourist attractions. In many cases you may rely on expensive tour guides, an overwhelming amount of online information and the odd piece of advice from a random local, often resulting in questionable or expensive experiences.
Through the use of GPS, some companies are taking a novel approach to help you get the most from your adventures. Companies such as Detour and Voicemap are startups using GPS to encourage individuals to produce audio tours for keen explorers. These could be anything from a murder mystery tour to a perfect day tour for foodies.
One company which is has built and impressive portfolio of audio tours is Echoes. They are currently working on a number of projects around the world, with the aim of treating our ears to some interesting information and stories while getting to know foreign lands. I spoke to Josh Kopeček, the founder and director of Echoes to get a better understand of the company and the unique service they offer.
What inspired you to create Echoes?
I was living in Hanoi, Vietnam at the time, and an opportunity came up for me to create a unique type of walking sound tour in the Old Quarter. I teamed up with a geeky friend and we investigated a piece of software called SonicMaps which allowed you to attach recorded sound to particular locations, and trigger it using GPS. We dotted sounds around the city and invited people to come along and listen. It was a major success, and we ran it again the next year. We loved the concept, and wanted to take it further. SonicMaps wasn’t being developed, so we ended up creating our own platform which we opened up for anyone to create their own soundwalks shortly afterwards. And so, Echoes was born.
How did you first establish and create Echoes?
It started with just the two of us, and then we joined forces with people who also loved the concept in Hanoi. We found a great team of developers in Hanoi with whom we still work, and my cofounder Yoann Fauché. When I moved back to the UK I set up Echoes as a company and continued with the team over Skype.
Who are your competitors?
There are a few others in our space – VoiceMap is probably the closest one, who have a marketplace for spoken word tours. They were actually working one table away from us in Hanoi for a while, even though they started in South Africa! Detour is another, although they started by commissioning all their own content, and they’re in the US. AWE is closer to augmented reality, but they don’t have a content platform.
What differentiates you from your competitors?
We’re concentrated on our community, and want to give them the freedom to be creative. We passionately believe that locative audio and audio augmented reality (AAR) is a creative medium that people should be able to explore and experiment with. Nothing else allows you to link sound and location in this way, and there are an incredible number of possibilities, from gaming to 3D audio tours, from narrative storytelling to sound art experiences. It can be both informative and entertaining, and locative sound is the best medium to keep you active, fit and engaged with your environment.
What has been Echoes’ greatest achievement within the past 6 months?
We did an amazing project with the artist John Duckworth for Wade in the Water, an art installation in Charleston in the US. It used groundbreaking high-accuracy indoor location and location triggering of audio to create a changing, reactive soundscape that helped bring awareness of the effects of climate change. We also worked on an binaural (spatial) audio tour app for Lewes Castle with artist Joseph Young, and uses iBeacons indoor and outdoors. It’s also fully accessible for blind and partially sighted users, a huge undertaking. This will be released to the public next month.
What are you currently working on at Echoes?
We are in the middle of quite a few projects. Working on an app project with SOUNDkitchen based in Birmingham, and we’ve just released an app featuring a collection of soundwalks for the incredible Leah Barclay in Australia for World Listening Day.
Internally we have some incredible new technology coming in the way of Audio Augmented Reality, which is going to be a game changer for us and an incredible boost for our community. It’s the logical next step for us, and we expect huge things when it’s released.
On your website there is a large selection of different types of tours, such as Foodie tours or storytelling tours. what are some of the most popular categories?
We get a huge variety of different tours on the platform. A lot of people come to us because of the flexibility of our platform and want to creating a walking sound experience which combines narrative storytelling and immersive sound.
Have there been any very individual or unique tours which are perhaps unconventional but interesting?
One of the most interesting concepts I saw was a murder mystery tour made by a student in the Netherlands. You had to go around listening for clues to solve the murder – a lot of fun! We worked on a tour for the Into Thin Air art festival in Hanoi which combined interviews with the artists with an art trail around the city. When you went to each location you could get a snippet of the artist talking about their piece as you viewed it.
When taking a holiday or short break, we want to fill this time with as many interesting experiences as possible. That is why relying on old methods of information such as lonely planet guides can be outdated and mainstream. When you only have 22 days of holiday each year, you want to make sure every day you spend is special and memorable. Through the use of GPS guides, you can turn an holiday into something wonderful.
The beauty about this idea is that anyone can create and design a unique tour, allowing an individual such as local to present their city to a tourist through their eyes (or ears should we say). So the next time you visit a new city, you can also experience a new type of adventure using just your phone and a pair of earphones.