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HP Plots Virtual Prison Break from the Tower of London


LONDON, Oct. 23, 2006 - HP researchers are working with the U.K.’s Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that cares for and conserves five unique palaces, to pilot a new location-aware adventure game in which visitors to the Tower of London help virtual prisoners to escape.

The game, developed by the Mediascapes research team at HP Labs and staff at the Tower of London, uses HP iPAQ handheld devices and location sensors including GPS. Digital files containing voices, images, music and clues are placed in specific locations using the HP Labs Mediascape authoring toolkit.

As players move into a location in the Tower and its grounds, the appropriate digital file is triggered on their iPAQ devices. This allows players to meet historical prisoners in the Tower, such as Guy Fawkes and Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII’s wives. Even the Tower’s Yeomen Warders, nicknamed Beefeaters, become part of the game as players try to help historical figures escape.

For HP, the interest in exploring this area of mobility is to understand the opportunities for new products and services that will emerge around the delivery of location and other context-based experiences.

“This is part of a wider project we are running to investigate how locative services might evolve based on user experience,” said Josephine Reid, who is leading the HP Labs team. “We think of this as a new medium, like a digital fourth dimension laid over a physical space. Understanding its value will enable us to go beyond the delivery of ‘anything, anytime, anywhere,’ to the delivery of the ‘right thing at the right time to the right place.’”

The pilot will be tested by members of Historic Royal Palaces and HP between Oct. 23 and 28. Some of the historical characters will try to persuade the players to help them escape using the same methods as the character actually used: finding ropes, bribing guards, smuggling letters and, of course, avoiding the patrolling Beefeaters. Succeed in avoiding the guards and the prisoner escapes; fail and the player will be locked up in the Tower – virtually at least.

“We’re interested in exploring how new technologies can help visitors become active participants in some of the Tower’s most exciting stories,” said Aileen Peirce, exhibition project manager at the Tower. “We hope that members will enjoy playing this innovative game on the actual sites where history happened.”

Historic Royal Palaces ( is an independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. These palaces are owned by the Queen on behalf of the nation and managed by Historic Royal Palaces for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. It receives no state funding and depends on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.

The Tower of London project is the latest in a series of experimental Mediascapes created by HP Labs Bristol in recent years. Others include:

* Riot 1831 – an interactive, location-based play for voices re-creating the drama, fear and mayhem of an infamous riot in Queen Square, Bristol. More than 100 digital files were placed in 37 locations so users walking through the square experienced the drama firsthand.
* Scape the Hood – A Mediascape experiment in San Francisco to investigate the potential for combining storytelling with location-aware mobile technologies. Participants were able to walk around the Mission Village Market and other areas and learn about history, culture and stories through Mediascapes created by local people who recall past times.
* Savannah – a schools educational project involving Futurelab, the BBC, HP Labs and the University of Bristol. Groups of children take the role of prides of young lions hunting on the African savannah (a school playing field). They have to act as a group to tackle big game, find water and learn when to fight or run.
* BBC Festival of Nature – The BBC Natural History Unit used HP Labs Mediascape technology to create a nature walk for the public around the city of Bristol and its historic harbor-side.

The HP Labs Mediascape authoring toolkit is available as a free download for non-commercial use at

About HP

HP is a technology solutions provider to consumers, businesses and institutions globally. The company’s offerings span IT infrastructure, global services, business and home computing, and imaging and printing. For the four fiscal quarters ended July 31, 2006, HP revenue totaled $90.0 billion. More information about HP (NYSE, Nasdaq: HPQ) is available at

© 2006 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. HP shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein.


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