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How our scavenging collection app evolved into a trail and fitness app

The Art Trail around Bridgnorth has been a great addition for the running club as we regularly use it as a quick 5km route.  It's easy to memorise the locations of the trains, but having the app, particularly with the upcoming 'timed routes' functionality adds a little extra to our runs.  Members are always looking for something different and the additional challenge of logging the fastest time around the 12 Art Trail Trains will be great.

Scott Mathers, Bridgnorth Running Club

On your marks

In Rock Solid Knowledge we are able to commit 10% of our time to an independent project of our choice. A small group of us used this time to complete “Scavenger”, a collection-based app. The concept was based on childhood memories of being given a list of creatures and plants to spot and tick off. Inspiration came from Top Trumps, Pokemon Go, Untappd and Usborne Spotters GuidesThe user starts with a collection of items, such as zoo animals, traverse around and tick off animals as they spot them. The original target audience was the educational sector, but the app has been content-modelled and built in a flexible and agnostic way so it can be cloned and skinned for other use cases whilst still using the same code base - we could easily extend to museums, vehicles or listed buildings.

The Scavenger team built an MVP using designs and wireframes to guide our app structure and user experience. We created an API specification upfront, demonstrating the expected JSON responses from each API method, including the item collection, challenges, trophies, branding, notification and tutorial. 

The API was developed following an exercise in content-first modelling, as Emma Garland discussed in various Umbraco conferences in 2018. These models consist of:

  • Challenges - each challenge having a title, time, image and location
  • Trophies - won for completing challenges
  • Notifications - tutorials and loading phrases to show within the app
  • Site information - branding (logo, title, website, etc), contact information and build information

The application was developed using a similar framework to the Gloucester History Festival companion app. We host on Microsoft Azure - app services, storage accounts and databases. The custom Scavenger C# Web API layer sits in front of Umbraco and returns the required content via various feeds. The item collection is requested from an API feed and can be regularly updated with new content - for example, if a new animal arrives it can be added without needing to redeploy the app. The mobile app was built as a cross-platform mobile application with Xamarin Forms. A local SQLite database stores the app data on the device and a C# layer translates the Xamarin Form fields into the native device field types. The Xamarin Forms SQLite database is refreshed regularly from the Umbraco CMS content via its own data cache. The use of dependency injection and unit tests ensure the typical high quality and reliability of our custom solutions.

Get set

Our developer Mark Pitt realised that the concept of a collection was perfect for a collection in his home town of Bridgnorth - the “Catch Me Who Can Art Trail - C'mon Find a Locomotive”. Twelve aluminium cast statues are located around the town centre at key historical spots and are designed by artists from the area. The designs pay tribute to the “Catch Me Who Can” train built by Trevithick in Bridgnorth in 1808. The route is a two-mile trail with a letter on each plinth, which form an anagram puzzle. It is a fantastic way of exploring the town, encouraging visitors and local residents to engage and find areas of the town they may normally overlook - an ideal candidate for a Scavenger App.

The question was, could we roll out the app for a whole new brand, location, collection and theme using the existing development and content model in just a few weeks

Scavenger did everything we needed it to do, and since we had a shared C# codebase, we cloned the Azure instances (app service, database and storage account) for Bridgnorth within 2 days. We created Bridgnorth specific Azure instances and forked the app codebase, using dynamic variables for web.config transforms via Octopus Deploy. We amended the automated deployment strategy to use Octopus Deploy Tenants so we can have one release deploying to multiple tenants, all receiving the same Web API C# app updates. If we create another Scavenger collection app, we will be able to add a new tenant within Octopus Deploy, reducing setup time. We use USync to import doc-type changes post-deployment.

Go!

We used Visual Studio AppCenter to manage deployments to the device, and the app went live before October half-term. We managed to successfully tailor the mobile apps for the new trail and submit to the app store for iOS and Android in less than 1 month.

We were interviewed on BBC Radio Shropshire about the app, and The Bridgnorth Rangers, a girl-guide senior section unit, trialled the app during an art trail visit.

Things didn’t stop there - once the app launched, Rock Solid Knowledge were approached by Bridgnorth Running Club who used the mobile phone app for their routes along the art trail. They wanted to track their distance and time to each statue using GPS and to “bank” each statue as they find them to score points on the app. In order to extend the code for this purpose, we added a new API method to the code to include a High Scores feed and to post new high scores from the app.

Winning

The running club’s time trial route lends the app’s purpose to double as a fitness-oriented app, as well as for exploring the town centre and art trail. The Bridgnorth Art Trail app is available free for both iPhone and Android devices. There is still a lot more to do - Bridgnorth have applied for a grant to fund 5 more statues commissioned by local artists to offer to charities and community groups for public display until 2022, as discussed by Julia Buckle, Bridgnorth Art Trail chairman Councillor. For information about the trail, visit the Facebook page or email the town council via [email protected].

In future, we can extend the location-based and time-based challenges, such as adding new running trails or daily challenges based on opening hours e.g. “Feeding the Tigers”. Seasonal collections are also a consideration - if the app is used for forest trails, then different plants show up at different times of the year. We could also add a leaderboard for fastest times around the lap. For the app itself, we’d like to include authentication, using membership to store user member details and previous challenges. Gamification plays a part, as we have planned functionality for users to achieve participation badges to be shared via social media. A stretch goal would be to utilise location data and Augmented Reality (AR) to traverse around the location. 

Because we allow clients to create their own content collections, we could clone this app for a new collection in future. If you’re interested in a similar app, or would like to discuss anything else, please get in touch at [email protected].

Using the app for the trail worked well; we felt the app was simple to use in terms of checking off each statue

Catherine Coleman, Bridgnorth Rangers Division Commissioner

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