Student helps create interactive game so public can understand our maritime heritage

  • Date

    Wed 8 Jul 20

Benjamin Tilbury

MSc Artificial Intelligence student Benjamin Tilbury helped create a unique game while completing an internship with Colchester-based creative digital learning centre Signals.

The game teaches the public about the flag-based messaging system known as semaphore which the British Navy refined and developed during the early 19th century through experiments along the Essex coastline.

The game is part of an interactive semaphore website launched by Signals to celebrate Tendring’s coastal heritage and connections with these early experiments in long distance communication during the Napoleonic Wars.

The new website invites everyone, and in particular children, to experiment with exciting new technology to play games and learn local history.

Please note: At the moment the semaphore game is designed for desktop computers and works best on a Chrome browser.

Benjamin, who is studying in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, said: “The website uses a convolutional neural network to find where the player’s hands and elbows are, then references that against a library of all the semaphore positions.

“I had a fantastic experience with my internship for Signals; during my time I assisted with various school workshops from KS2 to KS4 classes. It was really exciting to develop new skills while incorporating knowledge from my studies, and learn about the work Signals does around Essex.”

The internship was made possible by the South East Creative, Cultural and Digital Support programme which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Frazer Merrick Signals Education Coordinator, said: “Parents teaching their children at home can learn about local maritime heritage whilst also getting active and playing games.”

The new game allows players to use a webcam to track their arm movements and translates their position into semaphore signals. Players must spell words in time to prevent ships crashing into rocks or use the endless mode for creative writing with movement.

During the Napoleonic Wars the British grew envious of the semaphore systems used by the French and began to develop their own. In the early 1800s various experiments took place along the Tendring coastline, along the chain of Martello towers and on HMS Warning at Mersea Island.

This website is part of Signals’ ‘Talk Time’ project and made possible with a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £40,500. The wider project looks at the history of communications technologies in Tendring and how they have been used in its coastal communities during times of need, such as; semaphore in the Napoleonic war, RADAR in Walton during WW2, emergency warning systems in the 1953 floods and how people are using global tools for local connections during COVID-19.

Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project will include a series of workshops celebrating Tendring’s role in the development of various communication technologies through films, animations and podcasts. Signals wants to hear from anyone with stories, memories or knowledge of these topics for our upcoming Talk Time podcast. Perhaps they learnt semaphore in the sea cadets, have postcards of the RADAR dish at Walton’s Naze Tower or have an interesting story about how they’ve kept in touch with loved ones during the pandemic. If anyone would like to get in touch, please contact

Rachel Hipkiss Signals Director said "I am really excited about this project; it will give us the opportunity to work with loads of people at a tough time and get them involved in creating a unique project celebrating local stories. We are also happy that this is part of Essex 2020: Year of Science and Creativity"