In December, we ran our fourth community forum, in this series, a citizen engagement programme dedicated to building community participation in the development of Manchester as a Smart City.

The Festive Walking tour introduced participants to Augmented Technology, particularly around the possibilities it creates for discovery and wayfinding. Below is an insight by Nathaniel Hall, who was part of the team that led the participants through the Manchester Christmas Markets.

Ah, the Christmas Market.

Love it or loathe it, it’s become a fixture of the festive season in Manchester.

This years’ was even bigger and busier than ever with a record-breaking 80,000 festive mugs sold during the first 14 days – that’s 20,000 more than in 2016.

And given the challenging year, our city has faced – its hard for even the most miserly of Scrooges to not feel a sense of pride as Mancunians (and thousands of visitors to our city) continue to congregate and celebrate in our public realms with a sense defiance and dose of good cheer.

The Christmas Market began as a relatively humble affair with 16 stalls in Albert Square back in 1998. But, a product of its own continued success, the annual festive shopping frenzy now extends right across the city with markets in 10 locations and, a £90 million boost in revenue for the city’s economy at the last count way back in 2014.

And navigating all that can be daunting, even for those of us who know the city like the back of their hand.

That’s why this year, as part of the CityVerve smart cities demonstrator project, local tech firm Sparta Digital trialled a new smartphone app called Buzzin to help locals and visitors alike with their navigation nightmares.

It’s not the first outing for the augmented reality Wayfinder app either. Buzzin, complete with its proud Manchester worker bee logo, also helped party-goers find their way during the annual LGBT Pride festival earlier in 2017.

The app has a number of features including map-based and list-based wayfinding tools but more excitingly, also contains augmented-reality experiences for both wayfinding (to find, for example, the nearest cash point) and also just for fun (finding a friendly waving elf perched on your mug of gluhwein).

As part of an on-going project designed to bring new tech being trialled in our city and the local community closer together, CityVerve Community Champion (and ex-Christmas Market stall worker) Megan Marie Griffith, took a group of people on a tour of the markets, setting challenges both with and without the app along the way.

The two-hour interactive walking tour included using different aspects of the app to navigate the market whilst feedback was collated through survey and observation.

Megan also wowed with her in-depth knowledge of the Christmas Markets including how many songs are in Rudolf’s (the infamous reindeer head that sits above one of the largest beer halls) repertoire, and which stalls were the talk of the town this year (one involving Yorkshire Puddings as a wrap…)

In amongst the games, challenges and test-driving of the tech, participants were also treated to some of the market’s delicacies with a stop off for food in Albert Square and hot drinks in St Anne’s – the latter offering a chance to meet the augmented reality elf who lives atop the famous market mug… well, on your phone screen at least.

The event demonstrated just some of the new technologies on the horizon that will revolutionise how we interact with our built environment in the near future and, thanks to Megan, the markets, the team at CityVerve and Sparta Digital, left both tech-savvy and tech-shy, Manchester-born and Manchester-first-timers feeling festive and ready for the party season to begin.

CityVerve’s Transport initiative is using technology to create changes in air quality, commute and discovery of Manchester. The Buzzin app is designed for those within Manchester and can be found on the app store here.