Space Needle Key Points

 Tech Stack

BackendJava 8, Spring, Hibernate
DBMySQL 5.7
MobileReact Native, Unity
FrameworksReact Native, Angular, Spring
State ManagementRedux
Test FrameworksSelenium
DevOpsDocker, Webpack
ComputingGoogle Cloud

 Methodology, Tools

PMSJira + Confluence
DocumentationGoogle Docs
RepositoryBitBucket

 Overview

The Space Needle is an observation tower in Seattle, Washington in the United States, which was completed in 1961 and since become a must-see landmark in the state. In 2000, multimillion-dollar renovations were completed for the tower to add the SkyCity restaurant, the SpaceBase retail store, and the Skybeam as well as overhaul the Observation Deck, add lights, and repaint.

Currently, the tower has three levels, with every level providing different experiences for visitors. For example, the highest level has a zoom camera, which takes photos and videos of a visitor from a distance of 1,500 feet (or 500 meters). A mobile app would enhance that experience and make it more convenient. In January 2018, our long-term client partner contacted us to build a mobile application for the Space Needle tower. Our team was excited to take on this project!

 Business Goal

The app was set to improve attendance numbers for the Space Needle as well as enhance the visitor experience and increase engagement. A mobile app would introduce new user experiences and provide a convenient way for visitors to get their photos and videos from the Space Needle. Without an app, the flow for visitors was not so smooth; a regular photographer was hired to take photos. After visiting the Space Needle, visitors provided their contact information through a touch screen near the exit and received their photos via email. Introducing the app would automate this process and add some brand-new Augmented Reality features.

 Technical Challenges

The initial deadline was limited to six to seven months; the client wanted to launch a finished app as soon as possible. We decided to build the application using React Native, which allows the building of cross-platform mobile solutions. This framework was not very popular in early 2018. Thus, sometimes it was impossible to find certain libraries; this caused some tasks to take extended periods of time to complete.

 Solution

To achieve the business goal, we joined forces with our business partner (a product owner), the Vice President of Engineering at the Space Needle, and the GuestX team. GuestX helped us interact with Space Needle’s media system remotely and updated APIs at our request. The development of the actual application and Content Management System from scratch was done by us.

When the opportunity to build an app for the Space Needle arrived, we already had a team of experts who were finishing a project on React. Within a month, these experts learned the basics of React Native, switched their focus to the development of mobile applications, and became a core team for this project.

To meet the strict deadline, our team worked 12 to 13 hours a day for an entire month. Our team was motivated to deliver the best results possible, so they leveraged working overtime as a way to speed up development. The main reason for the overtime was the fact that React Native was still nascent and required a lot of custom solutions. Here is a quote from the Team Lead:

“Building an app on React Native was a big challenge because the community of developers was very small at that moment. This framework was lacking out of the box solutions that established programming languages and frameworks usually have. Our team was forced to come up with our own unique ways to deal with the challenges. One of those memorable challenges was a Panorama feature — a view from the highest point of Space Needle tower. The visitor should see the 360° panorama of Seattle through the app with added pins pointing to restaurants or museums, for example. React Native couldn’t handle a 360° overview, so we had to connect hundreds of photos to make this function work properly as the client had envisioned it.”
Tymur Mustafa – Team Lead/Project Manager

Integrating Augmented Reality into the React Native application was also very challenging, because AR used Unity. To connect React Native with Unity, we needed to code a native bridge using a programming language such as Swift. To make that happen, we added native developers to our team for a couple of weeks to write this bridge. This was a time-consuming process, but we managed to live up to the client’s expectations and provide the desired functionality.

Adding the application to the Apple Store was a final challenge that our team had to deal with. The Space Needle app actively tracks geolocation data in the background, which caused multiple rejections for placement. We managed to discuss all the details with Apple in a week and upload the app for download with all functions available.

The mobile app uses Augmented Reality, 4D, and other camera effects. Among other features:

  • The ability to connect a camera or device using Wi-Fi or API/Webhook system.
  • The support of multimedia content, including texts, videos, images, AR content, and panoramic images.
  • The ability to use QR codes, bar codes, location data, user interface buttons, and save visitor data.
  • The ability to connect the app to the ticketing system to share information about tickets and visitors in collaboration with GuestX.

 Results

The first release of a fully functional version of the application with all basic features was July 2018. The client was pleased with the results, both in UI/UX design and functionality. The internal user acceptance testing (UAT) phase of the application began immediately after the release. The app was soon launched for visitors, and we provided a 2-month guarantee period. Four months later, the client asked our team to update the application with some new features and make it even more stable, which led to the second release of the app. Here is what the user interface looks like:

Space Needle user interface

The Space Needle app is currently available on Apple Store and Play Market. In 2019, it was downloaded almost 1,000,000 times for both iOS and Android — the application had become very popular among visitors to the tower.

Space Needle was impressed with the performance of our team and offered another project. Right now, our experts are working on a complete redesign of the media platform, ticketing system, and software for physical devices for the Space Needle tower — which eliminates their need to work with third-party vendors. The success of the app helped us become a full cycle development partner for the Space Needle.

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