Vanderbilt developer White says Music City Center wayfinding app is just the start


Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, left, and Vanderbilt's Jules White, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, demonstrate the app. (Photos: Dipti Vaidya)

You’re attending your first conference at the 1.2 million-square-foot, 16-acre Music City Center. You’ve got to walk from a meeting room on the first floor to the Grand Ballroom on the fourth in 10 minutes. And you’ve just had five cups of coffee.

Vanderbilt University’s Jules White has got you covered.

His new wayfinder app for iPhone and Android will provide photo-based, step-by-step directions for the entire route, a one-click search for the closest restroom, and an exit guide so users can leave for downtown nightlife later on.

White, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, joined Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Music City Center President and CEO Charles Starks on Wednesday for the formal unveiling of the free Music City Center app.

The Music City Center app in use.

White and a team of Vanderbilt students created it as part of a public-private partnership between the convention center and Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems. The wayfinding technology they developed prompted the launch White’s startup company, Ziiio, an example of the sort of collaborations Dean wants to promote.

“This wayfinding app also highlights Nashville’s emergence as a tech city and a place where entrepreneurs and web developers feel empowered to come up with tools to make life easier and better,” Dean said in making the announcement.

The turn-by-turn wayfinding system is the first of its kind being used in a convention center, with low-energy Bluetooth signals interacting with 62 small, wall-mounted beacons. BKON, a local manufacturer of iBeacon hardware, donated those for the project.

White and Dean demonstrated the app on a whirlwind trot from a media conference on the top floor to a table of cookies at the end of a first-floor hallway. Television, newspaper and radio crews hurried alongside.

An iBeacon like the ones placed inside Music City Center's walls. (Photo: BKON Connect LLC)

At the trip’s end, they discussed the mayor’s Open Data Initiative, launched earlier this year, which White said gave him access to the Music City Center floor plan, plus lists of rooms and their attributes and descriptions of art on the walls.

In return, the app will collect data for foot-traffic analysis – when and where most people enter the convention center and where they’re most likely to get lost. That could lead to signage changes and other adjustments to improve Music City Center, White said.

There was no payment by either side for the project. The center got the app, and White and his team got the opportunity to demonstrate their technology in a convincing setting and on a national stage.

White said the technology will be useful in a variety of other settings, including hospitals.

“If you don’t feel well and you’re trying to get around between radiology and somewhere else to get a test done, it could be fantastic technology there,” he said. “I think you could certainly see it in other large venues, possibly airports and hotels, that need to provide wayfinding between locations.”

Music City Center opened 18 months ago and has attracted 500 groups with 750,000 unique visitors, Starks said. The app is one more perk that can set the venue apart in the highly competitive convention venue market.

White is currently helping guide an international MOOC (massive online open course) capstone project in which more than 1,000 budding programmers will write Android apps.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering