Museums are bringing new worlds to visitors like never before by using augmented reality to educate. Major museums, like the Getty Museum or the Louvre, have long been regarded as cultural epicenters. They are often frequented by thousands of tourists and locals every year.
Today, museums are looking to not only educate and inform their visitors but also entertain and keep them engaged. This is especially true for smaller local museums that often do not get the same rate of visitors or revenue as major museums.
The revolution of smartphones and tablets has meant that museums need to keep up with and integrate mobile technology into their exhibits.
However, many museums are taking their technology a step further and incorporating augmented reality through games, apps, and recreating worlds with virtual reality.
While using augmented reality and virtual reality as a form of entertainment might be new for museums, they often are already using such technology in their research and preservation methods.
Using Augmented Reality to recreate the past
Augmented reality is not necessarily new technology at this point, especially in the fields of research such as anthropology and archaeology. For many years now, augmented reality has been used to recreate worlds and artifacts that have vanished.
Through augmented reality, researchers can discover more information about how past civilizations lived and can piece together more information about the past. It is often a tool employed especially in Egyptology and ancient archaeology, where much evidence is destroyed, incomplete, or missing.
Artifacts that are destroyed or damaged can be scanned and turned digital so that researchers can try to recreate what the actual item could have looked like.
One researcher is looking to adapt such advanced technologies into a more accessible version for tablets that can be a more cost-effective version of the technology so that researchers all over the world and average consumers can utilize the technology.
Augmented Reality to smell and hear the past
Archeologist Stuart Eve is working to create an app that recreates ancient ruins as they originally looked.
Eve wants to develop this even further and create an app that can also help users not just see what ancient ruins used to look like but also what they smelled and sounded like to give a truly immersive experience.
Although a very rudimentary model now, Eve has developed an add-on of a tiny fan that would give off the smells that might have been present in the area and time period. A recording of the sounds of the area such as a crowded market or street would also be playing.
Eve says that by using AR we can render simulations of the ancient world by using the real world as a canvas. Eve hopes that his device will further research and provide insight into how ancient peoples lived.
This can help researchers understand how certain landscapes might have played a role in shaping civilizations and helps to give a more engaging and at-hand experience rather than just sitting behind a computer screen.
Museums already using AR
In addition to research, many museums are already using augmented reality for their visitor experience.
- The Annenberg Space for Photography
While the Annenberg Space has since had to permanently close its doors due to COVID-19, the small museum was once a gallery dedicated to using photography as a means to educate. In past exhibits, they utilized augmented reality and virtual reality to help enhance visitors’ experience.
Its exhibit last year of photographs of Cuba and Cuban culture also included a virtual reality room where visitors could use VR goggles and feel as if they were standing in a busy street in Havana.
- The Smithsonian Institute
The famous Smithsonian introduced AR to help enhance the experience of one of its oldest and most famous exhibits.
The museum’s Bone Hall has a massive collection of skeletons on display. Some have been displayed since 1881 and now they are coming back to life through the app Skin and Bones.
First introduced in 2017, the app features 13 skeletons from the collection, and through the app, the creatures are reconstructed using superimposed images.
Users can see how the animals would have looked and moved and can see the various layers of skin and muscle looks like over the bones.
The app helps to educate visitors on how some extinct animals would have looked like and interacted in their environment.
- The Cleveland Museum of Art
Using augmented reality, the museum was able to bring a much more interesting and interactive experience for museum visitors.
Using an app, visitors could view artifacts such as pottery as they once were in ancient times.
- The Kennedy Space Center
The ancient and extinct worlds are not the only ones coming to life through AR.
The Kennedy Space Center’s Heroes and Legends exhibit is another great example of how AR can be utilized in museums to educate visitors about key moments in history.
Using augmented reality, the exhibition uses holograms throughout to help visitors see and hear from actual astronauts talk about their work in their own words.
- The National Museum of Singapore
The museum used a game-like feature in their exhibit of the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.
Using an app on their phone or tablet, the visitors can explore the paintings and find plants and animals within the paintings.
They can then add them to their virtual collection as they walk around the museum and they can learn facts about each plant or animal they find.
- England’s Historic Cities
While not an actual museum, England’s Historic Cities app is a great example of how augmented reality can help to promote and educate heritage sites in countries.
Using the augmented reality app, visitors to the country can learn more about the famous heritage sites across the country such as the Roman Baths and Durham Cathedral.
Famous historical figures like William Shakespeare act as virtual guides and information is superimposed onto the walls and artifacts at the sites.
How to get visitors to use it
Museums everywhere seem to be embracing augmented reality as a way to revitalize their museums and enhance their visitor experience. However, it remains unclear if visitors are really embracing the technology themselves.
PalaeoGo is looking into how museums, particularly natural history museums and national parks, can best implement augmented reality to their facilities.
The group found that although many museums were using augmented reality through apps, it was not necessarily popular among visitors.
They concluded that visitors were wary about downloading such a specific app that really only had use within the museum, and they were also concerned with data privacy.
Museums can encourage visitors to download the app by:
- Making it relevant outside of the museum – a big concern for users is that the augmented reality app will have no usage outside of the museum and will end up just taking up space on their smartphone or tablet. Incorporating other educational or game-like elements that can function outside of the museum can help to encourage them to download it and to continue to use it.
- Gamifying its usage – Turning the app into an augmented reality game is a great way to get visitors to use it especially for children. This can help them have fun while at the museum and also helps to educate at the same time.
- Being transparent with data usage – Before visitors download the app, it is a good idea to provide them with information about how their data might be affected. This includes letting them know about email subscriptions and offering an option to opt-out. Transparency about their information can help them feel more at ease with using the app.
- Use it to advertise discount offers – An augmented reality app can also be a great way to encourage visitors to come back by offering discounts or deals if they download the app. Museums can also use the app to send offers to them.
- Partner with another museum – Again, many visitors are wary of downloading an app that is limited in usage. To help encourage them to download it, museums can partner with one another to help make the app more versatile and is great for visiting tourists to be able to use the same app at different museums and sites.
AR and our everyday lives
Many aspects of our everyday lives are using augmented reality. Museums are one of many industries that are embracing augmented reality to help enhance their visitor and user experience.
Everywhere you go bits of augmented reality are incorporated into our lives.
Most smartphone users already have augmented reality apps like games or shopping apps.
You can even use augmented reality to shop for a car as companies like RelayCars are making virtual showrooms the new norm.
Shoppers at stores like Ikea and Target can see how a piece of furniture will look in their home before even purchasing it using augmented reality features on their shopping apps.
Augmented reality is allowing us to not just enhance our real-world experience, but also is allowing us to visit the worlds of the past. Through augmented reality museums are bringing the past back to life and using it to educate a new generation in a way that keeps them engaged and curious.