5 November 2019

TUI brings dragons to life

Augmented Reality changes the future of excursions

It's a dragon, yes, a dragon! Flying around the world-famous cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, it is the "Drac de Na Coca" - the Dragon of Coca. According to legend, the dragon lived in the sewers of Palma in the 17th century and prowled the streets of the city at night. It spread fear and terror, devouring everything that stood in its way. The knight Bartomeu Còc is said to have hunted it down. Why is the dragon back now in 2019? TUI made sure of that at the beginning of the year. However, the "Drac de Na Coca" did not rise again in its terrifying physical form, but as a data projection to test the use of Augmented Reality (AR) on excursions. Holidaymakers were given special glasses reminiscent of science fiction films, which projected information, photos and animations onto their surroundings right before their eyes. The test, conducted by TUI Destination Experiences in Palma, also enabled users to receive information as they viewed different objects around the city, learning about paintings, the King's Palace and the world-famous Cathedral.

In the future, AR could make sightseeing tours even more informative, eventful and, above all, more customized to each individual. "In the near future, AR glasses will enable us to offer our guests a new form of experience with which they can gather very personal experiences and information while travelling with TUI," says Chris Carmichael, Head of Innovation at TUI Destination Experiences. "But the future is certainly in offering holidaymakers a mixed or augmented reality service for their own devices, just as we are already accustomed to from a smartphone app today.” The glasses used by TUI for the tests on Mallorca have a more lightweight and sleek design, especially in comparison to the clumsy virtual reality glasses currently available. In contrast to a VR-simulated environment, AR provides context-related information. It overlays and expands reality instead of creating a virtual reality. If you put on the test glasses, you see the normal environment. When walking around and turning the head to view different objects, clickable buttons appear in the field of vision, which can be used to call up additional, partly animated information. In addition to glasses, AR can also be displayed via smartphone, tablet and PC.

Technology improves quickly

The test on Mallorca has now been completed. "We have carried out a number of tests that have shown us what potential the glasses have and what we still have to improve," explains Carmichael. "The most important finding for me, however, is that the users felt very comfortable with these new technologies, even though they were approached by many people while wearing them.” When AR can actually be integrated into TUI's regular excursion program is not yet clear. "We were among the first providers in the world to test this technology for this form of experience. However, it will be a while before the hardware in particular is ready to allow us to use AR glasses on a grand scale on our excursions," says Chris Carmichael, who wants to undertake further tests.

Dragon or crocodile?

If the choice of the test location should be Palma de Mallorca again, the "Drac de Na Coca" will probably also play a role again, even if the dragon was probably a crocodile. A mummified crocodile is permanently exhibited in the Diocesan Museum in Palma, perhaps the true Dragon of Coca.