Royal BC Museum | BCBusiness

Royal BC Museum | BCBusiness
Wifarer made its Canadian debut via the Royal BC Museum on Aug. 1 to help art enthusiasts navigate the massive institution.

One of BCBusiness’s Top Innovators partners with one of B.C.’s largest museums to ensure visitors never lose their way.

With the advent of smartphones, Google Maps and Foursquare, we’re steadily moving toward a world where digital content overlays reality, where coupons, ads and information are ubiquitous, and where you’re never lost, whether on the street or deep inside a seemingly endless mall.
Victoria-based tech startup Wifarer, featured in BCBusiness’s April 2012 issue as one of the most innovative companies in the province, is partnering with the Royal BC Museum to be at the forefront of that push.
On Aug. 1, Wifarer’s first Canadian project went live. If you’re at the RBCM, just take your smartphone and scan the code on a sign in the lobby. You’ll never be lost in the sprawling institution again.
Want to find the concession or the bathroom? Wifarer gives you step-by-step directions. It also serves as a virtual tour guide. Instead of falling asleep listening to an audio lecture or reading a none-too-illuminating plaque, you can browse a plethora of links to multimedia about the nearest display, including pictures, audio, video, behind-the-scenes glimpses, even archival documents for hardcore museum-goers.
As Wifarer CEO Phillip Stranger says, “you can become an expert on the wooly mammoth just by standing there, ultimately.”

How does Wifarer work? That’s a trade secret, but the gist is that it uses wireless signals to triangulate a user’s location, just like a GPS uses microwave radiation from satellites.
The app is free to install and works at any location that uses Wifarer. It’s convenient for venues too because it requires no additional hardware.
Stranger said by blending the realms of the cyber and the real into what he called an “augmented reality,” traditional institutions like museums, which have long relied on an older audience, might be able to reach a new demographic.
“Certainly, people who are brought up in a digital environment are used to controlling it in some pretty profound ways, in ways that you can’t really do in the physical world, but once you have a digital layer on top of that, that does give you control back again, and I think that’s going to be very attractive for people,” he said.
It’s fitting that Wifarer’s first Canadian release would be in a museum. Stranger, a  Yale computer science MA and occasional classical music composer, got his inspiration from a bad guide at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
But the program also has enormous potential for point-of-sales marketing. The Bay Centre in Victoria is already working to install it. So are the University of British Columbia, Vancouver International Airport and almost two dozen other institutions across North America.
Unlike Facebook, Wifarer collects no personal information from users. It makes money through installation fees and a revenue-sharing model. And it might be a bit of a one-way street right now, but Stranger and his team of 20 are working on a new iteration that will allow users to upload their own content. No release date is specified.