February 19, 2003 | By: Janet Eaton, Ag. Communications Intern

Although it sounds like science fiction, visitors to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest soon will be able to learn more about a variety of trees, objects and trails with the help of a small handheld computer.

The University of Kentucky department of horticulture, Athenic Systems, and Bernheim jointly developed an information system linked to a database that can be accessed not only by handheld devices but also desktop computers, wireless networks and information kiosks.

At Bernheim, located near Clermont, Ky., the system will employ the handheld devices and will be first put to use on a trail around the visitor’s center so people will have easy access to answers for any questions.

“You can walk around the arboretum with this device and it is almost like having an expert walk around with you,” said Mark Williams, UK assistant professor of horticulture. “If you see a tree that you are interested in, you can take this little handheld device and point it at the tree and it can tell what tree that is.”

The system uses a positioning system keyed to individual tags on objects to pinpoint the object and retrieve the correct information. Once identified, the system allows the visitor to access a large database of information about the plant, tree or other tagged object or area.

The responsibilities of the UK department of horticulture in this project are to assist in the completion of the database of horticultural and natural history information and to conduct usability testing of the information delivered at Bernheim.

Usability testing is critical to the success of the project because the information must be usable to individuals with a variety of skills and backgrounds. Levels of information contained within the database have been developed for everyone from an elementary school student to a skilled horticulturist.

“One of the things we are doing differently is usability analysis from the beginning as the database is being developed,” Williams said.  “Traditionally, usability analysis is done after the product is released, when changes are too expensive or cannot be made.”

David Keal, education and interpretive technology manager at Bernheim, sees the potential for this system to appeal to younger visitors and families as well as others, and help visitors understand and enjoy more of what they have seen.

 “This system will allow us to teach or involve people at their own pace,” Keal said. “We want visits to Bernheim to be more than a one day experience. We hope the visit piques your interest and you take the experience home with you.”



Mark Williams  859-257-2638