Wednesday, 09 December 2015 23:19

QUT collaborates on TravelPal app for travellers


Queensland’s University of Technology has collaborated with Austria’s University of Salzburg to develop a mobile prototype – TravelPal – that enables tourists and other travellers to connect to each other in real time.

Based at QUT’s Urban Informatics Research Lab – led by Professor Marcus Foth, the research focused on what the university says was “serendipitous and ad-hoc relationships” that can be built between tourists, places and technology.

Inspired by CB radio, key designer and Austrian student from the University of Salzburg, Sarah-Kristin Thiel, said TravelPal enhanced the “feeling of connectedness” among users.

Thiel is demonstrating the prototype as a guest speaker at the 2015 Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction being held in Melbourne this Thursday (10 December).

“Driving can be a lonely activity and drive tourists and road trippers have few options to communicate with fellow travellers,” Thiel said.

“There are many tourist and social interaction applications in general, but they rarely allow users to interact or ask specific questions in real time.

“The TravelPal application aims to let travellers share their experiences with others to learn interesting facts about a destination or exchange tips on the road.”

Thiel, who is currently a PhD student with the University of Salzburg, developed the application at QUT while completing her Master of Science (Media Informatics) from Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich, Germany.

“During my six months in Australia, I was a tourist myself and could relate to many issues regarding tourism.

“In the context of our study, a serendipitous situation would for instance occur when a tourist changed their original route based on the recommendation from a fellow traveller and consequently discovers something that they were not in quest of but really liked.”

To test the technology, six people aged under 30 were recruited to take a road trip from Brisbane to Byron Bay in two cars and explore unfamiliar terrain along the way.

“Both groups installed TravelPal onto their mobile device and placed it on the dashboard like a GPS device,” Thiel said.

“Before commencing their trip, users set the destination, share their interests, create a profile and set a range around their position to define the area to become a TravelPal.”

Thiel says the technology took into account road safety and privacy issues as users could decide what information they wanted to reveal and control details about their current position.

“TravelPal is not intended to be actively used by the driver of the vehicle while the car is in motion.

“By including the text-to-speech feature, we attempted to let drivers passively use the application and thus still be part of the discussions.

“The opportunity to send audio messages is meant to keep the mental load of using the application to a minimum.”

Professor Marcus Foth, head of QUT Urban Informatics, said TravelPal was designed in response to the Queensland Drive Tourism Strategy.  

“TravelPal complements our lab’s urban mobility program of research, which also comprises studies into public transport, specifically bus and rail, as well as designing solutions to foster safer driving behaviours in young drivers,” Professor Foth said.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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