Adapting simple audio guide for new and sophisticated uses
In Hand Guides is developing its units for other sectors apart from tourism
Trevor Winckworth of In Hand Guides: ‘People can use our guides anywhere – indoors or out – without any hitch in service.’
Cork-based company In Hand Guides produces low-cost audio guides primarily for the tourism sector. The company has already sold more than 500,000 units to customers such as Trinity College Dublin, the Boston Freedom Trail and Niagara Falls. However, later this year, it will unveil its second-generation player which company co-founder Trevor Winckworth says will revolutionise automated guiding and boost the company’s sales significantly.
A chance meeting on a plane between Winckworth and ex-army officer Leo Callow led to the company’s formation.
“The original idea was sparked by a device used to offer advice to US soldiers in the field. It was a simple audio player and I could see how the technology could be developed for health and lifestyle applications,” says Winckworth, who was working for Baxter Healthcare at the time.
Armed with a redundancy package from Baxter, Winckworth began developing the idea for In Hand Guides. A prototype was produced in 2008 in conjunction with the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). The company has continued working closely with CIT since. The institute’s Nimbus Centre has been heavily involved in the new product’s development.
“Our patent-pending technology uses beacons to trigger the audio to play in whatever language required as someone approaches. The beacons are about the size of a cigarette box and can be dotted around a city or site as required. This technology is a sea-change in automated guiding particularly, in an outdoor setting.”
The company’s first-generation players were also innovative by being low-cost units that people bought rather than rented when visiting tourist attractions. This cut costs for operators who no longer had to deal with breakages or take a hit when people didn’t return them. The units were branded with the attraction’s logo and effectively sold as souvenirs.
The information content was delivered via embedded audio using MP3 technology. The typical retail cost of a unit is around €8. The players are made in China but scripting, recording, design and packaging are done mainly in Ireland.
“We were targeting health rather than tourism with our first-generation product in 2009, but when we were contacted by Book of Kells manager Paul Corrigan, things changed fundamentally,” Winckworth says. “Paul wanted to install audio players but at the time what was available were expensive rent-out systems that cost around €200,000 to set up.
“He asked if our player could be used in the Book of Kells setting and simply sold to visitors. We said it could and have continued to do business and test player developments with Trinity ever since. We delivered 6,000 units of our 2015 version to the college this month.”
In Hand Guides now employs six people and expects to break even this year on a turnover of around €1.5 million. However, with its new, patented technology about to go live, Winckworth says the company is poised to take a huge leap forward and will be taking on additional staff.
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While tourism is the company’s main market, it also produces players for other sectors. For example, it shipped 5,000 units to Somalia to inform citizens about their new constitution. The company is now a UN-approved supplier and Winckworth says its product is ideal for use in health and public information applications where communication infrastructures are poor.