BLUFFDALE, UT — Blue & Gold Fleet, a subsidiary of PIER 39, is the premier provider of ferry and water excursions on San Francisco Bay. The boat tours spotlight the region’s many notable structures and historic sites visible from the water, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. The concept of tourists using a prerecorded audio narration on headphones as a tour guide is not a new one, but Blue & Gold Fleet wanted something more modern and personalized for its five vessels than, for instance, the headphones-and-tape-player handed out by museum greeters. A more contemporary approach could use patrons’ existing Wi-Fi enabled devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) as receivers, and even offer multiple language choices for users. They were able to accomplish exactly this, thanks to Wi-Fi Audio Tour System from Listen Technologies Corporation, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of assistive listening products, along with additional access points and controller components from Ruckus Wireless, a pioneer in the wireless infrastructure market.
The installed system allows tourists to use their own mobile devices and to enjoy the tour in any of eight languages (English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese Mandarin), along with historic photos of notable sites along the cruise route. Instead of downloading an app, tourists simply access the tour in their web browser on the local Wi-Fi intranet, and the tours can even be customized using a cloud-based service. Ear buds are provided at the users’ request.
“The number-one goal was that we wanted to offer the audio in more languages than just English, considering the large number of foreign travelers in the area,” stated Kent McGrath, Director of Engineering for Blue & Gold Fleet. “We did not have the technology to offer multiple translations at the same time, so we needed a way to do that. We knew we could use visitors’ phones as receivers, but we also knew that guests aren’t going to want to use cellular data while on the water. Nor did we want to have everyone download an app. We knew there was an easier way. Listen Technologies supplied us with the answer. As a solution, we were able to instead set up an intranet, localized to each vessel, with this Listen Technologies Wi-Fi System, and push through audio and pictures to each device.”
The environment also proved to be a challenge – multi-level metal boats are not an easy place to rely on high-density Wi-Fi, serving up to 500 passengers on a variety of different devices. Access points and controllers from Ruckus Wireless were installed to help with the high-density usage and transmitting without interference from the vessels’ metal structure.
McGrath continues, “For our passengers, setting it up is really easy. They just access our Wi-Fi network, and the browser sort of takes it from there. You select a language, and you’re off and running. You’re not using any data on your phone, and there’s no fee for this. And the timing of our voyages is carefully automated, so it tells you to look ‘left’ or ‘right’ in the correct place on the cruise.”
McGrath and his colleagues at Blue & Gold Fleet are excited about the results. He notes, “This precisely solved our problems and let us accomplish what we wanted to offer our guests. Very simply, this has been able to set us apart from the other sightseeing boat tours in the area.”
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