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My first experience of interactive tech in a museum dates back to the mid-nineties when touch screen kiosks were new and demonstrated real technical innovation. It didn’t matter that the content was often little more than a glorified PowerPoint Presentation, what was important was that it was fresh, it put control into the hands of the visitor, and ultimately held attention longer than static exhibits.
As time passed and visitors became familiar with the technology, engagement with these exhibits decreased – and users began to seek more exciting and vivid experiences. I’ve seen this pattern repeat in many areas of technology innovation and it’s a good thing.
To keep user engagement at optimum levels, continued innovation is key. So, with that in mind what were the innovations that stood out at Museum Tech 2016 that will be the next drivers of engagement? Below are my favourite concepts, innovations and themes that I think can make a difference in the museum sector…
At the high end (fantastic but expensive!) of 3D data capture and visualisation was David Hughes from Interspectral who demonstrated their touch based interactive table allowing visitors to look inside a Mummy’s sarcophagus by capturing data using a CT scanner. I’m sure this experience remained in the minds of most visitors long after the event – it definitely stuck with me.
The importance of 3D in the coming years cannot be underestimated. Although the process of capturing and sharing collections’ objects online sounds expensive, there are very cheap, good alternatives – including software that can transform 2D digital images into fully formed and dynamic 3D digital models using only a smartphone or cheap digital camera! The leading software seems to be ‘Photoscan’ which is extremely powerful and fairly easy to learn. Although the free demo won’t let you save anything it will give you a very good understanding of what you would be able to achieve with the $179 standard software. The captured models can even be printed out using 3D printers.
I’m a big fan of location awareness within apps and online experiences – the value this adds to the user can be very significant.
A typical phone’s location accuracy depends on a number of factors around the technology available on the phone. Below is a rough guide as to how accurate (or not) this can be on a 3G iPhone:
Within a building these distances are of little use. Devices such as ‘Beacons’ (small devices working on Bluetooth) offer greater utility, narrowing the phone’s location down to within a couple of meters. Beacons can be integrated with apps to trigger animations, interaction, sounds or videos on the user’s device, all of which add layers of engagement to otherwise static exhibits. But the opportunity for innovation here is massive and very exciting, for example if visitors were given Beacons to keep on them during their visit, which would trigger the exhibit to respond to the user when approached.
Chris Stevens from Extensis demonstrated their Digital Asset Management solution. While it’s not a collections management tool, it’s a great way to store and tag all digital assets you have. One reason for using such a tool is that it allows web developers to pull content dynamically into a website, meaning your website will always be up to date and you only need to edit images, tags, descriptions etc. in one place. As websites are now moving towards providing more visual experiences, large, high quality images and video are more important than ever.
There are currently really exiting innovations in technology and 2016 promises great things. The show proves it’s important to keep abreast of trend, but the leading edge need not be prohibitively expensive – often these innovations can be reached within achievable budgets.
Be brave, innovate!
We fended offstrong competition from three other cultural institutions across the country,including the Natural History Museum and English Heritage, with our Timeline:Sources from History project. continued