Aruba offers an immersive mobile experience in the heart of AQUATIS, Europe's largest freshwater aquarium-vivarium
Olivier Laforge's primary aim was to give the 400,000 annual visitors to the AQUATIS enclosed aquarium-vivarium and tropical rainforest an immersive, high-tech experience.
"We wanted to create a next-generation aquarium, close to a hotel complex, with a more educational and fun approach to the freshwater world alongside innovative services based on leading-edge mobile connectivity," emphasised BOAS Group's IT Director.
Mobile First technology to improve the user experience
We have also used Aruba's Mobile Engagement solutions. This platform has enabled us to deploy our customised services of high accuracy local navigation onto visitors' mobile devices. Olivier Laforge, IT Director, BOAS Group
Attracting the general public to an enclosed area and making them want to come back means we need to be continually arousing their curiosity through technological innovations which are simultaneously simple, functional and practical. In addition, these clients require reliable Internet connections so they don't incur roaming charges.
"One example of innovation is that we have implemented an indoor geo-tracking solution which gives every visitor access to extra, personalised, species information (text and pictures) to their smartphone via a specific app," explained Olivier Laforge.
The BOAS IT team, with advice from a local partner, has chosen Aruba, a Hewlett Packard company, to meet the requirements of a reliable and scalable Wi-Fi infrastructure. "Aruba has all the infrastructure and necessary software to meet our requirements, such as high density access points, built-in security, management and even Bluetooth Beacons in different convenient formats."
Mobile Engagement for geo-tracking
AQUATIS, a part of the Swiss group BOAS, has opted to install Aruba AP-305 and AP-325 access points for its indoor Wi-Fi network needs. It has deployed a combination of High Density APs with built-in Bluetooth Beacons and also USB Beacons. The advantage in this case is that these beacons, as opposed to its standalone versions which are battery-powered, are electrically powered by the APs or the devices they are plugged into, respectively. In external areas, including the very humid Forest exhibit, Aruba AP-275 outdoor access points and standalone BLE Beacons have been deployed.
"We have used Aruba's Mobile Engagement solutions for sending push notifications and for geo-tracking. This platform has enabled us to deliver our personalised services of high accuracy local navigation to visitors' mobile devices. These personalised services were defined using the visitor's personal profile and their location within the site. In future, we will also add push notifications, such as discount offers or different navigation modes for adults and children," stated Olivier Laforge.
The Marketing Department believes that this solution will raise visitor loyalty rates and satisfaction levels, as well as increase the return on investment for AQUATIS.
The navigation app for Android and Apple smartphones has been developed internally and is based on the Aruba Meridian platform, with the integration using the Meridian SDK. This platform enables hosting of content such as site maps, text and the info cards required by this app for the exhibits. In future, videos will also be available for visitors. Allowing them to see these features without needing to be in front of each display; a great advantage on very busy days. Each user can download the app in advance and prepare their visit while they wait, as well as continue viewing the extra information when they return home.
This platform allows AQUATIS to try new ideas, in the very future, for making the visits increasingly dynamic and to even make them customised for different age groups. While adults can plan and enjoy a more educational tour, children can enjoy a fun treasure hunt or gamified approach to the discovery of the site. "Of course, the adults can choose to play the game too, if they wish!" quips Olivier Laforge.
With this solution, the content of exhibits and visits can be easily viewed and updated by the AQUATIS team. Visits become more and more dynamic and satisfying, which encourages visitors to come back again.
Sharing and pooling platforms
The BOAS Group's IT team has installed 35 digital screens throughout the tour, which display brief information in front of each of the 46 aquariums/vivariums/terrariums. These are linked to the AQUATIS app via Bluetooth Beacons, which are plugged into its USB ports to distribute content via its wireless network connection. As a visitor approaches a screen, further information about the corresponding exhibit will pop up on the app. The Aruba platform provides secure Internet access for visitors, prioritised smartphone access to the app and to part of the ticketing system. For Olivier Laforge, "It is a real sharing and pooling of the platforms, whilst at the same time insisting on the security of the different environments."
Additional standalone Beacons have been installed in the "Tropical Rainforest", which has already been opened to the public. Due to the high levels of moisture and humidity, they are protected by a waterproof plastic shell printed in 3D by the IT team. The shells also enable the shiny white surfaces of the Wi-Fi APs to be hidden without affecting the signal or spoiling the scenography of the tour.
Close links with the US Aruba teams
The solution has been set up to include 2 clustered 7205 Aruba Mobility Controllers to ensure the high availability of services, with each one managing a share of the 80 access points.
In addition, the BOAS Group IT management team has been able to work directly with the US Aruba Meridian developers. This has been a greatly welcomed bonus and has allowed the app's development to make rapid progress. Indeed, this geo-tracking and proximity detection solution offers huge potential for Europe-wide development on a major scale.
AQUATIS, a 'victim' of its own success since opening in autumn 2017, could host thousands of tourists daily. However, for security reasons, a maximum of 1,000 people at any one time are allowed to visit the aquariums. In one full day, as many as 5,000 visitors could take the tour. Since the economic impact is significant, at peak times colleagues are equipped with smartphones which have Bluetooth connectivity and Aruba's Wi-Fi in order to enable visitors to enter more quickly.
The trilingual smartphone app will shortly open a link to Facebook to manage feedback and generate new visits, especially to the Tropical Rainforest. Further ideas are in the pipeline, such as the ability to plan a visit at short notice, find the best day to come, organise dining, treasure hunts, events, additional languages etc.
"In a few years, we may also be interested in virtual and enhanced reality for the Cinema Zone which will be opening shortly, perhaps with hydraulic seats," promises Olivier Laforge. "Currently, however, the aim is to open one of our two temporary exhibits. This will require installing new Wi-Fi access points, just as it has in an area reserved for temporary exhibits."
Remote management for the whole property
All these Aruba-based infrastructure solutions allow Olivier Laforge and his team to ensure remote monitoring, in the same way that already exists for the BOAS Group's 10 hotels. Overall, the company owns 15 controllers and 600 Aruba Wi-Fi terminals.
AQUATIS has managed to find a solution which resolves the numerous problems linked with, for example, the overall moisture, the concrete structures and the acrylic used for the aquarium windows. The biggest challenge has been the enormous volumes of water. With the combination of Aruba solutions and advice from engineers and its partner, AQUATIS now has a Wi-Fi infrastructure that can meet its current and future development needs.
Enhanced hospitality experience
The AQUATIS hotel, only metres away from the aquarium complex, and like all other hotel in the BOAS Group, offers superior and easily accessible Aruba Wi-Fi connectivity to its guests and business customers. The aquarium is a great attraction for these groups. It is expected that the mobile engagement and ability to create personalised experiences for visitors of the Aquarium, will enable the Group to extend such features and benefits to its hotel guests in the future.