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It takes at least a full day to experience the wonders of the massive Canadian Museum of Civilization across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill in Gatineau, Que., but finding your way around it may soon get a whole lot easier.

In the future, the estimated 1.3 million people who visit Canada's largest museum every year could have their own personal escort - an electronic one called the Mobile Interactive Guide.

The guide was developed by Flick Software Inc., a privately held Ottawa-based company that specializes in mobile software products and employs 14 people. Museum officials are testing a prototype of the sturdily built interactive device, which is about twice the size of a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA).

"Only about five per cent of the museum's holdings are on display, but members of the public don't always have time to see even that much when they visit," Jason Flick, president and chief executive officer of Flick Software, said.

His company's goal was to help people make the most of each visit. Using either their fingers or an attached stylus, visitors click on various icons on the device to learn about exhibitions, check the schedule for the museum's IMAX theatre, and play trivia or treasure hunt games. The guide can play short video clips, with audio delivered through an earpiece.

Visitors can also scan the museum's collections and locate exhibits - or themselves - on a map, and call up detailed information about nearby items of interest. The system calculates the strength and angle of the signal the wireless device transmits to pinpoint it.

A user enters an e-mail address into the guide, which is used to identify the person and forward information to the device. They can create a buddy list of whomever they've gone to the museum with by adding other peoples' e-mail addresses to the guide, too, making it easier for groups to keep in touch during a visit, according to Gordon Butler, the museum's chief information technology officer.

"We're always looking for ways to enhance the visitor experience, and handheld technology has the potential to do that," Mr. Butler said.

The personal identifier allows visitors to bookmark information and have that data forwarded to their e-mail addresses at work or at home, Mr. Flick added. And since visitors have the option of including basic personal information with their log-in, the resulting profile can help the museum customize a tour based on their interests

The Mobile Interactive Guide took a year to develop with help from several partners. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. provided its mobile technology, and Ottawa-based TrueContext Corp.'s mExperience multi-channel content management software distributes information between the museum's server and each MIG.

The museum won't reveal what the pilot project costs, or when it plans to make a decision on the system. It said the testing this summer will help it determine not only how effective the system is, but also whether visitors would be willing to pay to rent the Mobile Interactive Guide.

Though Flick Software is focusing on Canadian museums, the company's founder says he sees opportunities for the technology with amusement parks, zoos, trade shows and even cities that run historical tours.

"It has applicability wherever location-based content is relevant," Mr. Flick said.

"People see handheld devices as calendars or organizers and don't understand that these are full-blown computers."

He adds the Mobile Interactive Guide could also serve as a tool for human tour guides. Flick Software adapted a keyboard-free laptop computer that features a large touch screen.

As Mr. Flick explains: "Rather than carrying clipboards, tour guides can use our device to display content to groups."