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Sherwood Forest on target to become world’s first 5G ‘Connected Forest’

Visitors to the Sherwood Forest Country Park will be able to get a 3D experience of the forest like never before following the go-ahead for a £10m project to test the latest 5G technology at the world-renowned tourist destination.

Government funding worth £5 million, which will be matched by a consortium led by Nottinghamshire County Council, has been announced as part of series of government-funded trials to seize the potential of modern technology  by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport today (Thursday 20 February)

The £10m funding will launch the 25-month test bed and trial programme to create the world’s first 5G Connected Forest at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre and surrounding area, including Rufford Abbey Country Park, which are managed by the RSPB and Parkwood Outdoors on behalf of the County Council.

Focusing on how 5G technology can benefit tourism and environment sectors,  the pilot, which starts next month, will test new approaches to using virtual and augmented reality experiences for visitors as well as at ways to improve visitor accommodation and transport.

Visitors will be able to experience the new technology first hand as early as March 2021, during the first year of the programme.

The project will also look at ways that 5G can be used to improve the management of the forest and monitor its health. A 5G Innovation Hub will also be developed to provide facilities for research and for businesses to explore new applications for this cutting-edge technology as well as an opportunity for local people to upgrade skills.

Highlights of the 5G Connected Forest project will include:

  • Bringing the Robin Hood legend to life at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre via an incredible 3D/4D virtual reality experience.
  • Testing of semi-autonomous vehicles to transport visitors, particularly those with mobility issues, with plans for on-board narration to describe the history and background of the site.
  • Technology to teach children about the natural habitat of the forest to inspire the next generation of conservationists.
  • Testing the state-of-the-art digital technologies such as drones and robots to help survey and monitor the health of the forest while minimising the impact on the environment.
  • Trialling more energy-efficient  visitor accommodation  using  smart  devices to reduce the environmental impact of a visitor’s stay as well as other improvements to encourage longer stays in the county.
  • A 5G Innovation Hub to host new research and to provide businesses with access to facilities to trial new ideas and innovations.
  • An education and skills programme for local people and businesses.

The includes Nottingham Trent University, Birmingham City University, Netmore IOT Solutions, Gooii, ISPB, Harworth Group, Centre Parcs UK, Stagecoach East Midlands and Parkwood Outdoors.

Connected Forest is one of eight national 5G programmes announced today and is one of only two projects to be led by a local authority.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Connecting the ancient Sherwood Forest with next-generation 5G technology will help bring its story and legendary characters to life through virtual reality, with huge knock-on benefits for Nottinghamshire’s visit economy.

“With £5 million of government funding matched by industry, I’m very excited to see what lessons can be learned about the innovative ways 5G can boost Britain’s brilliant tourism experiences.”

Welcoming the government funding, Nottinghamshire County Council leader, Councillor Kay Cutts MBE said: “Nottinghamshire is once again at the forefront of latest technology, bringing together some of the best academic minds,  3D creators and experts in 5G.

“This will be the world’s first testing, of 5G, in a forest.  It will bring the stories associated with Robin Hood and our ancient woodland to life in a new way.

“Together with our partners, we will create a virtual reality experience for visitors to Sherwood Forest to attract even more families and visitors to Nottinghamshire from across the UK and overseas, bringing benefits to local businesses and our economy.”