Ordnance Survey recruits AR developer to build 'geolocated quests' to help get Brit couch potatoes exercising outdoors

Yes, our current girth would welcome some age-appropriate Pokémon GO

Updated UK mapping agency the Ordnance Survey has awarded a contract to develop an augmented-reality game it hopes will bring some 21st-century tech to the great British outdoors.

Come rain or shine (OK, mainly rain), there's a niche of enthusiasts among the British population that likes nothing more than donning cagoules and sturdy walking shoes and getting a breath of fresh air, reliable OS map in hand as a navigation aid.

But the Ordnance Survey, a government-owned company founded in 1791, thinks that niche might be expanded with a bit of augmented reality, helping to improve the health of a nation at the same time.

"The western world has an activity crisis," a contract award notice said. "People are not being active outside half as much as they should be. Yet, increasing indicators suggest it's also not as much as they consciously want to – with awareness rising of the mental and physical wellbeing needs across society in the UK alone, evidence is mounting that many more people want to connect with the natural environment than they currently quite know how to. This presents us with a compelling opportunity."

Ready to grasp this opportunity is games and AR developer Preloaded, which has been awarded the £300,000 contract.

The company will be charged with creating "a series of geolocated quests, challenges and special events, using augmented reality to enhance engagement with the outside," which could help "create something truly unique and really disrupt the market, encouraging everyone to 'Get Outside' more often," the contract notice said.

Preloaded has worked on AR projects on behalf of the BBC, the V&A Museum, and dictionary publishers Merriam-Webster.

This contract win relates to a tender notice published in January.

The Ordnance Survey has also issued a £6m contract notice for the development of a "new gaming app". It has yet to respond to The Register's questions about whether it is related to the Preloaded deal.

Regardless, the Ordnance Survey has a point when it comes to physical activity in the UK. According to government data, a lack of it is responsible for one in six deaths – that's as many as smoking causes. It estimates the cost to the economy is £7.4bn annually, including £900m to the NHS alone.

Perhaps some age-appropriate version of Pokémon GO based around Derbyshire's Anglo-Saxon churches would be in order? ®

Updated to add

Ordnance Survey was unable to answer questions about audience, timings, or the business model of the games under development, but said the two separate tenders are part of the same project.

Nick Giles, MD OS Leisure, said: "This is an exciting project which supports our vision to get more people outside more often. During 2020 we have seen an explosion in the users of our OS Maps app and service and we are committed to investing and innovating in ways to reach new audiences and inspire even more people to enjoy the outdoors.

"The project is in its very early stages and we are exploring the rapidly expanding gaming market for outside play. We believe that the outdoors, mapping (location tech) and gaming has the potential to deliver new experiences and adventures helping people to get outside.

"Gaming is a new area for OS and it is vital that we have the expertise to help shape and deliver this exciting project. In addition to the specialist agency support around game design and animation, and gaming app development we will be looking to build our in-house team so for anyone with gaming experience that fancies a challenge – please keep a look out on our LinkedIn page!"

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