Innovative self-guided information system at the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden

The Friends of Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden have developed a computer tablet-based self-tour information system for visitors, called Botanic Explorer. Using iPads, visitors can walk around at their own pace, scanning signs and browsing information to learn about plants, insects, birds, walking tracks and other features.

Stewart Needham, leader of the project which developed the system explains: “The main focus is on the native plants growing in the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden, including details on the natural range of the plants, where they can be found, tips for identification, what time of year they flower, and the origin of their name”.

There is information on over 100 plant species and their groupings, as well as information on birds and their calls, major insect groups, and the walking tracks and other features of the Garden; more information will be added over time by Friends and volunteers. “Next year we will be adding information on Aboriginal food plants, frogs and grasses as well as more flowering shrubs and trees” Mr Needham said.

The Friends looked at many other botanic gardens, other outdoor attractions, art galleries etc for an application which would do the job, but could not find anything suitable. So they commissioned development of an app written especially for the job. It uses multi-media to help get information across in different ways to appeal to people of different ages and different levels of computer literacy - QR codes dotted around the garden can be scanned, topics can be searched, titles can be browsed, photos and sketches help display special features of the plants, and a map helps users find their way around.

Mr Needham commented: “We have included audio to help present some of the information and enrich the user experience. We hope to increase the audio content and also incorporate video, to further expand and improve the visitor experience, and eventually build Botanic Explorer into an information-rich educational tool”.

The three key objectives for the Garden are ‘Conservation, Recreation and Education’. The first two boxes are comprehensively ticked through the propagation and sale of native plants, garden bed development, planting and maintenance, and by the provision of walking tracks, barbecues, and a great playspace for the kids which incorporates a mud brick cubby (or is it a castle?). Guided tours are offered each week, and every year, Year 4 children from many local schools spend a day learning about plants and environmental issues. However, there is much more information that can be offered to the public about the plants and other features. “We developed a computer tablet system because it can readily cope with a large amount of information in a readily accessible way and is easily amended and expanded ….. we started to prepare brochures but soon realised we would need lots of them to do a half-decent job of describing the plants of our region” Stewart said.

Writing material which appeals to a wide range of the 70,000 plus visitors to ERBG each year was a challenge, because the content needs to be factually and scientifically correct, but devoid of complexities and jargon that would put off the non-specialist. “We hope it will encourage more people to incorporate local native plants in their gardens” said Stewart.

Botanic Explorer was launched on December 7 and is available for hire from the ERBG Visitor Centre ($5.00 for a half day). Owing to poor network coverage the system only works on iPads hired at the venue and will not work on visitors’ own iPads or smartphones. There are plans to make the app available to download when better coverage becomes available. The app can easily be configured for different users, so it has potential to be adapted for use at other venues wanting to provide self-guided information tours for visitors.

So next time you are visiting the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden, between Mogo and Batemans Bay, take the opportunity to carry an iPad with you to find out lots more about the local native plants and why the Garden is one of the leading attractions in the South Coast region.

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