Sir David Attenborough is to front a new app that will allow mobile phone users to enlist the presenter as a virtual tour guide who will appear in holographic videos when they visit sights across the UK.
The 94-year-old will be the centrepiece of a new augmented reality app, which will be released alongside the BBC’s next landmark natural history TV series, The Green Planet, which launches next year. It will feature digitally streamed plants and creatures in real-world sights when visitors use their mobile phones.
The app is in the early stages of development and its makers are in discussions about trialling it with consumers in unnamed locations before a larger-scale launch next year.
The idea is that people will use the app – described by the makers as similar to having “Attenborough in your pocket” – in a range of green spaces and urban areas, in the same way Pokemon Go brought game characters into real-world locations.
“There is a whole hidden kingdom of plants in the green world that grow and operate at a pace not able to be seen by the human eye,” said John Cassy, the founder of Factory 42, which is developing the app. “We are able to bring technology to the real world through the use of augmented reality.”
The app, which is being developed by a consortium including the mobile phone operator EE, BBC Studios, the commercial arm of the BBC, and Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, is one of nine test projects to receive government-funding as part of an initiative to showcase how next-generation 5G mobile technology can benefit the UK.
The Green Planet augmented reality app has been awarded GBP2.27m in funding by the department for digital, culture, media and sport, as part of its 5G Create initiative, contributing to a total project cost of GBP4.4m.
“This cutting-edge app, fronted by broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough, is set to be an inspiring example of how new technology can reconnect us with the natural world while demonstrating the power of 5G to a huge new audience,” said Matt Warman, the minister for digital infrastructure. “The projects we have selected will demonstrate how the blistering speeds of 5G can put some rocket fuel in our economy and help businesses bounce back from the pandemic.”
Other projects backed by the government include GBP2.4m towards an initiative at Stadium MK, the home of the football team MK Dons, which aims to use 5G technology to showcase how sport and entertainment venues might operate in the future.
The stadium project, which will cost GBP4.1m in total, will include trials of driverless shuttles and vehicles, “autonomous surveillance vehicles and drones for enhancing security”, and “test out robots and drones for goods delivery and hospitality use”.
Others to benefit from the government funding include the business behind the Cowes Week regatta on the Isle of Wight, which wants to take sailing “out of the water and on to the internet”, the Eden Project in Cornwall, and London’s O2 arena which wants to explore providing “instant, multi-angle replays via smartphones during stadium events”.
Another beneficiary is the Port of Felixstowe, which has partnered with businesses including the mobile company Three UK and Cambridge University, which has received GBP1.6m of a total GBP3.4m budget to trial 5G potential including “enabling remote-controlled cranes”.
Warman said: “5G is about so much more than faster mobile internet speeds so we’re investing millions to help some of Britain’s brightest innovators explore the huge potential of the technology to improve and enrich our lives.”