WHEN Lena Angland secured a coveted place on the Exxcel Female Entrepreneurship programme in STEM at CIT’s Rubicon Centre, she already had sown the seeds for her 3-D-augmented reality experience, called Wanderful.
“Aimed at small legs,” according to Lena, this exciting and hugely innovative experience marries technology with nature and offers young children a magical portal through which they can explore the world that exists just beyond their line of vision.
Think Bosco’s Magic Door, but for a 21st century, technologically-savvy child.
Mum to three young kids, aged eight, four and one, and living most of her life in the leafy village of Innishannon with nature literally on her doorstep, Lena set out to design something that got families back out in the fresh air.
“When we went on family walks, with the fantastic Bishopstown Orienteering Club, we all came home happy”, says Lena.
“It was like pressing a re-set button.”
For the last few months, however, navigating the stress of online schooling has meant that kids have been predominantly engaged indoors.
“Technology was keeping our kids in” she continues.
“We have such amazing things on our doorstep, I wanted the experience to be the carrot to get people to go out and explore the world around them and physically experience it.
“Nothing is beyond a child’s imagination” insists Lena.
“When we go out walking as a family, we are always making up stories. Often, we have pirates chasing us. So, I thought, how cool would it be to meet Oliver the Owl who lives in the trees surrounding us.”
Kids also like to have a plan when they are going walking and they love ‘seek and find’ games.
And so, the idea was conceived to create some type of augmented reality to bring the local Dromkeen Woods to life. Located within Lena’s 5km, it was the natural location from which to pilot the initial Wanderful experience.
“I was nervous of putting it out there”, she admits.
“But the feedback from families has been amazing.”
When the app is downloaded, it opens a page with symbols and a map, and the kids have to run and find the symbols hidden along the woodland trail. When they find one, the parent then points the phone at it and it unlocks a 3-d animated creature that inhabits the hidden magical world of the woods and gives some essential facts.
“It is not just an app, it’s an experience,” insists Lena.
“If you pivot your phone, and keep the nest in view for example, then it acts like a magic lens and looks like Oliver the Owl is actually physically there.”
Such has been the reaction by the hundreds of families who have already downloaded the app and experienced the original Wee Wander (with many going back for second and third helpings) that, just six weeks on, a second experience, The Irish Native Wildlife Wander, has been launched. And it is proving just as attractive.
“Nature has always been a big thing with us”, admits Angland.
“I grew up knowing all about badgers, for example, but never actually saw one.”
So, one of her aims with this new Wander was to not only show kids a very realistic 3-d animation of an actual badger, and other fellow creatures, like a Kingfisher, lizard, fox, squirrel, etc, that live and breathe in the woods, but to also subtly teach kids some fun facts about them.
Learning by osmosis! And in the fresh air! What a joyous day out for families, young and old.
Sara Barry-Twohig, of Crossbarry, and her three girls Dilly, aged 12, Bella aged 10, and Lola, aged six, have experienced both Wanders.
“Throughout lockdown, we’ve practically lived in Dromkeen Woods as it was within our 5km. But this Wanderful Experience has been fantastic. The girls race each other to get to the next symbol.
“My older girl is delighted to be able to take her own pictures on her phone. It is fabulous for their imaginations. You really can’t beat the magic of the woods. All my girls keep asking is ‘When’s the next one coming!?’”
Lena said: “I am so grateful to Coillte for supporting the project and to my local Enterprise office who helped from the get-go. Without their invaluable backing, I couldn’t even have got to this stage.”
Securing a place on the Exxcel programme is where she got to finesse her idea and learned all about the mechanics of progressing a business.
At the end of the course, she was also awarded Best Business Opportunity.
The full-time working mum was able to draw on her experience as a software development manager to effectively manage the project in her spare time.
“I learned there is so much to developing the Wanderful experience”, she explains, “from planning a website, design, branding, building the trail, etc. I have learned a ton and am totally addicted to it!” she adds with a laugh.
At this early stage in the project, Lena has commenced discussions with a number of interested parties about rolling out other on-site Wanderful family experiences when business re-opens in a few months’ time.
“Mixing technology and nature is a relatively new concept, accepts Angland. But her hope is that this hybrid approach of melding technology with fresh air, nature and augmented reality will lure kids back outside again and teach them to care for those creatures that live around them.
Wanderful is available on the app store.