Along the virtual tour, you can even render fireworks, fireflies or mid-autumn climactic elements to suit your seasonal moods.

Have you ever visited the world-famous Hangzhou West Lake (掌上西湖) 180km southwest of Shanghai?

Regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in China, the freshwater lake is divided into five sections by three causeways. Throughout history, West Lake has influenced the works of poets and painters alike, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is now out of reach to tourists around the world.

Fortunately, on 27 Sep, armchair visitors around the world will be able to experience the sights and sounds of the lake via an augmented reality (AR) navigation feature integrated into a smart app named after the attraction. Besides providing extensive information and detailed tourist activities, the app lets users traverse a 1.4 km-long AR-enhanced scenic route starting from Ping Hu Qiu Yue, also known as the “Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake”, along “Gushan Houshan Road” and ending at the “Yue Fei Temple”.

Photo by Susan Chow, via Pixabay

Augmented virtual tourism

Visitors can scan each scenic spot with the app, which fires up the AR navigation journey. From there, virtual signs emerge to guide visitors through the attractions along the route in real-time, accompanied by suitable background music. Visitors can also tap on the virtual signs on their mobile phone to access audio clips describing each scenic spot.

In addition to AR navigation, another AR feature creates rendered images of specific scenic spots derived from the back stories of each historical site. For example, the best time to experience “Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake” is during a full moon, especially during mid-Autumn. Since that is not always practicable for tourists in reality, the app can do it for them: users can use the AR feature to transform the lake into a mid-autumn evening scene and even add special effects such as fireworks under a full moon, or create virtual fireflies over the lake, to generate unique visual experiences for every virtual visitor.

The AR features are powered by a mixed augmented reality platform by Hong Kong AI firm SenseTime. The platform boasts high-precision positioning and content enhancement technologies to realize 3D reconstructions of the key tourist spots at West Lake.

By incorporating “cross-platform and terminal spatial-sensing algorithms” and “collaborative positioning abilities”, the AI and Machine Learning solution claims to offer even greater positioning accuracy than existing Global Positioning Systems or digital-model rendering technologies. The solution can also be easily customized and applied on a large scale to a variety of scenarios and situations for tourism and related applications.  

SenseTime hopes to introduce this genre of interactive AR elements to reshape arts and cultural use cases in the post-COVID landscape for tourism as well as industry, enhancing accessibility and engagement.