8 technological innovations that are becoming the norm in museums and heritage sites
For better or for worse, the museum and heritage sectors are in something of a technological arms race, from reception to flagship exhibition.
With the introduction of new innovations comes a debate about how best to take the technology from novelty to a valuable storytelling device. Here, Advisor showcases some of these technologies, as they move from proof of concept to real-world examples.
Projection mapping transforms spaces large and small
When projected onto walls, ceilings, floors and objects, projection mapping allows existing surfaces to come to life with virtual content that can be viewed by users near or – scaled to walls of the building – seen from afar.
The technique can be used to highlight existing features in historic buildings, bring specific shapes and structures to life, and illuminate custom-built structures for an installation.
As an alternative to screens in a multimedia exhibition, or as an enhancement system for existing facades, the creation and installation of a projection mapping will require custom construction and installation.
Recent use cases include the Van Gogh exhibition at Manchester’s MediaCity, which relies heavily on projection mapping to fill otherwise empty walls with video.
In another example, Harewood House and its “Luminescence” projection mapping installation by multimedia artists Dave & Kristin McGuire. Part of the exhibition “A Night At The Mansion”, it will win Innovation of the Year at the Museums + Heritage Awards in 2020.
Luminescence. A projection mapping installation we created as part of A Night At The Mansion. Our award-winning visitor attraction that ran across all halls of Harewood House. @harewoodhouse @studiomcguire #videomapping #projectionmapping #statelyhome #projection pic.twitter.com/s1NCIpygen
— Davy and Kristin McGuire (@studiomcguire) May 3, 2021
Binaural technology adds an immersive layer to audio
Binaural audio is a type of audio specifically recorded over two channels to reflect two human ears, to mimic the effect of immersive sound during playback.
The technique replicates the way humans naturally hear sounds by creating the effect of actually hearing sound in a space. This creates an immersive experience that allows museum visitors to feel part of the exhibit. In other words, binaural audio allows visitors to “hear” in 3D.
Among the museums that use the technology is the Met. His Visitors to Versailles the exhibit included helmets that visitors could wear.
Instead of traditional expert commentary on specific objects, this binaural audio experience is “animated” by actors representing royalty, ambassadors, architects, travel writers and tourists as they journey through an open carriage from Paris to Versailles.
“Digital twins” preserve and reproduce delicate objects
The concept of “digital twin” extends to the photography of 3D objects. Photogrammetry – the process of taking both photos and volumetric data – enables the creation of a virtual model that can be digitized and then exists in 3D space.
It is a process that benefits the preservation of physical objects by freezing them at a given time as part of a digital archive. But it also allows visitors to satisfy the urge to pick up and manipulate objects.
Companies such as London’s Form Capture offer on-site object scanning and have worked with companies such as the British Museum – alongside Nike and Google – to create 3D captures.
This technique is also used by the Anglo Sikh Museum’s collection of virtual objects, which can not only be rotated and moved in 3D in a browser, but also have ‘hotspots’ providing additional information.
Contactless donations in a cashless society
The coronavirus has all but depleted physical cash, and that’s a problem for museums and heritage attractions hoping to make the most of visitors’ spare change as they enter or exit.
But just as contactless payments are expected in retail, contactless donations are now the most convenient way to give. The People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is among the museums embracing tap-to-give technology. Via GoodBox, a technology company specializing in tap-to-give contactless donation stations, the museum is able to increase donations and continue to engage with visitors while keeping entry free in a society cashless.
Additionally, PHM reports that new digital donation statistics allow it to think more strategically about how visitors give. Since installing the technology, he’s found that visitors donate the most during the weekend, particularly between 1 and 2 p.m.
Holographic screens add an extra dimension to the visuals
Among the museums using technology to its fullest is the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum, which launched a life-size hologram of Holocaust survivor and fashion designer Renee Firestone. Firestone was filmed with a set of cameras answering questions, and the resulting videos were converted into a hologram that is a permanent installation called “Dimensions in Testimony”, created by the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles founded by Steven Spielberg.
A more affordable option is holographic fan display technology, which uses a rotating LED bar to give the illusion of a floating object. The technology was used by display company Virtual On to create Dr WHO-themed holograms at an event at the British Film Institute (BFI).
Applications as an all-knowing tour guide
A digital layer on top of existing screens without requiring multimedia investment, a channel through which to keep in touch with visitors, and more prescient in recent years as a digital alternative to those unable to visit in person.
Among the places to adopt app guides, and following in the footsteps of the Central Park Conservancy, Black Cultural Archives, is Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) which has collaborated with Bloomberg Philanthropies to produce a digital guide accessible via the Bloomberg app Connect.
The app allows visitors to discover content and access information about the artworks featured by YSP, answer questions from a typical paper guide, and provide film and audio content.
At the YSP, an audiovisual guide to Joana Vasconcelos’ landmark exhibition Beyond and stand-alone works by Alfredo Jaar, Kalliopi Lemos, Jaume Plensa, RAQS Media Collective, Ursula von Rydingsvard and William Tucker are available.
The existing technology developed by the Bloomberg Connects app skips the often costly hurdle of building an app from scratch. But the major museums have decided to create their own distinct offer.
Among them is The History of Science’s Pocket Curator app, which offers more interactive ways to explore the Museum, with animations, audio commentary and interactive demonstrations of museum objects.
Virtual reality as a gateway to virtual museums
The Curatours virtual museum platform opens its first “Plastic Museum”
While AR/VR is an established technology that is reshaping the way museums and exhibits are presented, it is now being leveraged to create entire virtual museums with multiple exhibits.
Last year, the first such “virtual museum” was launched on the virtual reality platform Curatours, which was specifically designed for experiences in museums and galleries.
Part of the British Council’s Creative Commissions programme, which explores climate change as part of The Climate Connection Global initiative, the virtual ‘Plastics Museum 2121’ is based on an imagined future 100 years from now, in which efforts to reduce the use of plastic have been effective.
It’s part of what should be a long list of virtual museums on the platform, opening doors for a new breed of museum curators, new opportunities to create experiences in a world without a budget, and social interaction with d other virtual users who might be on the other side of the globe.
Visitor Flow Technology Makes People Tracking Smarter
Museums use visitor flow technology to understand how people experience their exhibits. The data is used to improve the visitor experience by providing content that matches visitor interests and helping museums organize their collections to better meet visitor needs. This new approach changed the museum landscape forever.
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena is among those that have embraced new technology to facilitate this process, which can be achieved through tracking wi-fi connections, online ticketing and, in the case of the Museo de Italian art, through the installation of 3D sensors.
Using Xovis’ people counting sensor technology, which provides the same service to the retail and transportation industries, sensors and technology can automate the flow of people, enabling better routing and better reports.