This weekend ViewRanger went walking with the One Step Walkers group – a walking group for 40+ year-olds from the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire area with over 100 members – and a research team from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The excuse for this very pleasant and enjoyable day out was the first UK field trial of the software development ViewRanger has been doing for the DOSSy research project.
DOSSy stands for Digital Outdoor Safety Systems, and comprises the development of an app with in-built safety mechanisms allowing lovers of the outdoors to keep enjoying their walks in the countryside into an age when they might otherwise be forced to stop by concerns for personal safety. The project, run by a consortia of Swiss (University of St. Gallen), German (German Red Cross) and British (ViewRanger) teams is part funded by the European Union, and is the first European joint project in which VewRanger has been involved.
The One Step Walkers, our Swiss colleagues, and four members for the ViewRanger team met in Derbyshire, at the beautiful Hartington Hall YHA, for a pre-walk introduction to the app and the new features of the software developed for research purposes that needed testing, which included an SOS button linking to the emergency services, a new passive monitoring system allowing safety alarms to be triggered in certain situations, and how generally user-friendly the app is for people who may have limited or no experience with smart phones or tablets.
Robin Davison, the long walks organiser for One Step Walkers, was our first contact at the walking group and very supportive of our request, kindly offering to include this field trial day in their walking calendar and promote it to the group members.
Robin: “I felt the day could be beneficial for group members for several reasons, primarily it would give members the skills & confidence to plan and lead walks for fellow members and spread our leading responsibilities. On a personal basis although I am a qualified navigator using map and compass I have found planning and leading with GPS to be far easier despite the frustrating shortcomings of some of the several systems I have tried. If I can influence development of the Viewranger system to better accommodate our needs this could be both interesting and satisfying.”
After the brief introduction, our 21 app-trialers - most of whom had never used ViewRanger or owned a smartphone - were thrown in at the deep end and asked to use ViewRanger to follow a pre-loaded route which took them on a circular 6-mile route from Hartington alongside the River Dove and Wolfscote Dale to Peaseland Rocks and back via Biggin Dale.
Click here to see the route we took: Hartington Walk.
(Look at the photos on the waypoints, they're lovely!)
The glorious sunshine definitely put everyone in the right frame of mind to start the walk, and our field testers found the app interesting and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the smartphones and tablets in the context of navigating the great outdoors.
Robin: “We meet members with different reasons to come out walking but what they have in common is a wish to enjoy the beautiful countryside in the company of fellow walkers on a friendly sociable day out whist out improving fitness. The Viewranger app will allow us to improve the planning of our walks and communicate the route to members making it more attractive to come along & informative on the walk. Its benefits are certainly not restricted to groups as for independent walkers the app again allows a more efficient planning of the route and confidence in staying safer on route on the day as well as recording the tracks you have taken.”
With vibration notifications going off left, right and centre, the walkers could not have missed the useful information offered at different waypoints along the route, and they experimented with different walking speeds and deviating from the route to see how the app reacted.
By mid-afternoon we were all back at the hostel for tea, cake, and the debrief session run by the field trial specialists from St Gallen University. The average age of this field trial group was quite a bit younger than that of the first field trial done in Germany (70-84!), giving us a most-appreciated insight into the user habits, concerns and needs of a younger, yet still mature, age-group.
This feedback is currently being analysed by the team back in Switzerland, who will soon send a list of improvements to the ViewRanger development team, ahead of a second round of field trials in May in the UK, Germany and Switzerland.
We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the One Step Walkers group for their time, enthusiasm and patience. Your help on Sunday was crucial to the DOSSy consortia’s study into improving the options available to older people, hopefully extending their ability to enjoy the outdoors into later age.
Fancy joining a walking group? The Ramblers - find a local walking group