AWS Public Sector Blog

Singapore’s National Library Board aims to unlock country’s rich heritage with AR app built by AWS Partner NCS

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The vision of Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) goes beyond making information accessible; the NLB is focused on bringing the richness of the nation’s cultural heritage right to the palm of your hand.

As part of its LAB25 (Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025) Singapore Storytellers initiative, the NLB seeks to nurture a stronger appreciation and understanding of the Singapore experience. NLB wants to do this in four ways:

  1. Gather content about Singapore as a collector
  2. Lead digital preservation of this content as a keeper
  3. Enable discovery and use of this content by everyone as a connector
  4. Inspire generations of storytellers

Re-imagining the storytelling experience of Singapore’s historical landmarks

To support this, Amazon Web Services (AWS) collaborated with Singapore-based NCS, a leading technology services firm, to create an interactive augmented reality (AR) web application prototype on the AWS Cloud. This innovative prototype allows citizens to discover the stories behind Singapore’s iconic landmarks from their devices at any time.

NLB collaborates closely with tech organisations, like NCS and AWS, to make Singapore content accessible and relevant and weave it into other areas of learning. By giving everyone the ability to discover stories behind Singapore’s iconic landmarks, NLB hopes to inspire all to learn and appreciate the events that shape Singapore’s national identity and collective experience. The prototype supports the foundation for a more connected and curious Singapore, unlocking the secrets of the country’s heritage in thrilling new ways.

Breaking down the challenge to make heritage appealing to all

The NCS Cloud Innovation for Communities (CIC) program team was tasked with making Singapore’s rich history and heritage more appealing across all generations through engaging experiences powered by cutting-edge technologies. The vision was to create a 3D construct that cuts across space, time, and narrative to make Singapore’s history come alive in a fun and educational way for everyone.

  • Time: Showcase the evolution of a location over centuries using rich digital content, including pictures, newspaper articles, and memories.
  • Space: Encourage users to explore other iconic landmarks within the vicinity and district.
  • Narrative: Structure the thematic context by layers.

Creating an immersive cultural experience with NCS-AWS’ Cloud Innovation for Communities program

Without an existing product on the market that met their requirements, the NCS CIC program set out to create their own solution. Their innovative and immersive AR web app delivers content on demand over the internet, using a mobile or tablet, with no need to download another native mobile app.

To gain deeper insights into what motivates Singaporeans to explore their history and culture, the NCS CIC program employed a blend of methodologies. This includes the NCS proprietary design thinking methodology with the DRIVE framework (discovery, reframing, innovation, visualization, and evaluation), as well as the Amazon Working Backwards methodology.

These frameworks allowed NCS and AWS to discover and analyze user needs and goals and translate them into a clearly defined problem statement. By understanding the primary motivators for learning about Singapore’s heritage, we were able to create a coherent end user journey visualization and define the end vision for the solution. The entire process was executed with remarkable speed, moving from the initial concept to tangible results within just one month.

In this 8-screen comic strip, we follow the journey of George, a 70-year-old Singaporean man, and his 13-year-old grandson, Royston. As they stroll past Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel, George reminisces about its rich history spanning 130 years. Sensing his grandfather's nostalgia, Royston introduces George to 'Curiocity AR,' a mobile application. With a simple demonstration, Royston unveils the app's magic: as he points his phone camera towards the Raffles Hotel, speech bubbles appear on his screen, revealing old photos, videos, and historical tidbits about the building. George is pleasantly surprised, especially as he recalls seeing one of the videos from a TV commercial from his childhood. Delighted by the memories brought back by the app, George eagerly accompanies Royston to other landmarks like Capitol to experience more of the 'Curiocity' app's immersive journey through time.

Figure 1. Visual storyboard of the solution described in this post.

By merging NLB’s extensive resources on Singapore’s history and culture with the domain expertise and technological capabilities of NCS and AWS, the team successfully crafted a proof of concept (POC). This prototype offered a glimpse into Singapore’s vibrant history and revitalized the storytelling experience, creating a more engaging and immersive encounter for the app users. It delivered the following three benefits to users.

  1. Step into adventure: Using Amazon Rekognition, an advanced cognitive technology by AWS, the app instantly recognize landmarks scanned from your device’s camera.
  2. Turn curiosity into knowledge: The web app pieces together rich digital content such as images, videos, and news articles about the landmark.
  3. Interact with history: A dedicated team of architects and developers in NCS, well-versed with AR technologies, helped craft an experience that allows users to immerse themselves and interact with history and culture by tapping on any curated content on the screen to find out more.

Making landmarks come to life

Figure 2. NLB AR web application concept.

The POC for the web app was successfully built and tested within a month, with a focus on five of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks located in the civic district. The app was able to recognize all five landmarks and display curated information about them, showcasing the fundamental features of the website and its potential impact.

“The proof of concept enabled NLB to test the concept of combining a geo-based platform and mixed reality to generate interest in Singapore heritage and history, where citizens can experience geo-based resources from our collections using the 3D framing of time, space, and narrative,” said Soh Lin Li, Director of Partnerships for the NLB.

The prototype of the immersive web app experience was showcased to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo. The project’s use of technology was instrumental in enabling people to discover Singapore’s rich heritage and stories in an innovative way.

Figure 3. Former Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, center, viewing the NLB mobile web application proof of concept showcase in Parliament in March 2022 (Photo credit: Ministry of Communications and Information).

About the Program

The NCS CIC program empowers organisations to solve challenges with innovative solutions that harness the power of cloud for the benefit of our communities. If you are a public sector agency, higher education institution, or healthcare, transportation, or nonprofit organization, visit the NCS CIC homepage to submit your challenge and tackle complex problems with the combined expertise of NCS and AWS.

Visit the NCS partner page on AWS and view their products in AWS Marketplace.