Lancaster University

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Computing researchers make digital scarecrow documentary

12/09/2011 00:00:00

​The story of Lancaster University’s Wray Broadband Project is to be made into a documentary film featuring a digitally enhanced scarecrow at the annual village festival.

The initiative from the School of Computing and Communications is being funded by a “Telling Tales of Engagement” competition run by Research Councils UK. 

The aim is to explain the background to the University’s transformation of village life when Wray became the first UK village to get wifi broadband in 2003 and the first to get hi-speed broadband in 2010.

The “broadband scarecrow” will take part in the annual Wray scarecrow festival and both the design and construction, along with the festival and village parade, will be included in a documentary film.

Dr Nicholas Race said: “Whilst we have some ideas for the scarecrow itself – such as draping the scarecrow in intelligent lighting - other possible digital enhancements will emerge in the course of competitions that we’ll be organising involving the village and Lancaster University students.

“Possibilities include using bluetooth to enable the scarecrow to respond to people’s mobile phones, embedding RFID or QR tags that trigger other images, or inserting a camera functionality in the scarecrow so that the scarecrow can provide images to its own blog - these designs will also form part of the eventual documentary.

“After the festival we anticipate the scarecrow going on tour at museums and galleries and, in this fashion, together with other artefacts and applications, telling the tale of the Wray Broadband project.”

The new technology has empowered villagers to become content creators, a feature highlighted when a cricket match in Wray was broadcast live online and reported by The Guardian ttp://  and tweeted by Stephen Fry. Wray is one of very few rural locations in the UK with the upload capabilities to send user generated content like this to the internet.

The broadband project has also had a profound impact in the village, including the Hermes project which placed a digital noticeboard in the post office for community photos  an iPhone project for posting and displaying self-generated travel information for the villagers, and a project that enables people to use mobile phones to publish photos to google maps. This was used to take photos of Wray’s annual scarecrow festival.

Most recently the European Union P2P-Next project is building a platform to support the future delivery of TV over the internet. Lancaster University researchers are working in collaboration with partners across Europe, including the BBC and Pioneer, to develop and trial a peer-to-peer system that can deliver a wide range of TV programmes over the internet to a TV using a set top box.

The villagers in Wray have also helped the neighbouring village of Wennington get online as the project is rolled out across the UK

As a social enterprise and a regeneration tool, the Wray Broadband project provides a model to be replicated in rural communities across the UK as local people take control of their own digital future.