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Museums and Augmented Reality

Alright, let’s stretch our legs a bit more on this topic of museums getting all cozy with augmented reality (AR). Grab a drink, and let’s dive deeper into this not-so-quiet revolution shaking up the dusty shelves and polished floors of our favourite cultural haunts.


Augmented Reality - Art of London

Augmented Reality: Museums’ New Frontier

Museums, traditionally the guardians of quiet and thoughtful reflection, are now embracing the lively and interactive world of augmented reality (AR). This technological infusion is like adding a spark to dry tinder, igniting interest and engagement in ways that static exhibits simply can't match. By incorporating AR, museums are not just places to observe but to interact, turning every visit into a dynamic journey through time and space.


Why Museums Love AR

The adoption of AR by museums is driven by their desire to connect more deeply with a diverse audience. Static displays, while informative, often fail to capture the imagination of younger generations raised on digital interactivity. AR bridges this gap by transforming the way information is presented—turning an ordinary exhibit into an extraordinary adventure. It's about making the exhibits come alive, allowing visitors to not just learn about an object or artwork, but to experience it in context.


Bringing the Past to Life

AR brings unparalleled vividness to historical narratives. At institutions like the Smithsonian, AR isn’t just a tool; it's a time machine. Here, visitors can watch as the Wright Brothers’ plane takes flight overhead or follow a day in the life of a Civil War soldier. These experiences make history tangible, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding that traditional methods might struggle to achieve.


The Magic of Accessibility

AR extends the reach of museums far beyond their physical walls. Through mobile apps and virtual experiences, museums can now bring their collections to life anywhere in the world. This is particularly powerful for educational outreach, allowing students in remote or underserved areas to experience world-class cultural resources. AR thus acts not only as a bridge to the past but also to the wider world, making culture universally accessible.


Education on Steroids

AR revolutionises museum education by making it interactive and immersive. Visitors can engage in virtual scavenger hunts that reveal hidden stories behind artifacts or participate in interactive quizzes that spring up beside the exhibits. This kind of active engagement helps cement knowledge and enhances recall, making each visit both educational and entertaining.


Tailored Experiences

With advancements in AR technology, museums can offer even more personalised experiences. Future AR systems could analyse visitor preferences and past interactions to recommend specific paths through the museum, highlight exhibits that align with individual interests, or even adjust the complexity of information presented based on the visitor’s age or educational background.


Challenges and Innovations

Despite its benefits, integrating AR into museums presents several challenges. Ensuring that AR applications are user-friendly and accessible to people of all ages and tech-savviness is crucial. Museums must also tackle the technical challenges of integrating AR with existing infrastructure, such as ensuring reliable Wi-Fi access throughout the exhibit spaces to support mobile-based AR experiences.


What’s on the Horizon?

The future possibilities for AR in museums include even more immersive experiences, such as full-scale holographic reenactments of historical events or interactive AR workshops where visitors can try their hand at ancient crafts or artistic techniques under the guidance of virtual instructors. These innovations could transform museums from places of passive observation to hubs of active participation and learning.


A New Way to Engage

As AR becomes more integrated into our daily lives, its role in museums continues to evolve. From enhancing the realism of exhibits to creating new forms of storytelling, AR is proving to be one of the most exciting developments in the museum sector. It invites a broader audience to explore and learn in ways that are engaging, accessible, and, most importantly, fun.


Real World Examples:


San Francisco's de Young Museum

At San Francisco's de Young Museum, the "Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style" exhibition, launched in January 2024, offers a unique interactive experience in collaboration with Snap Inc. Visitors have the thrilling opportunity to virtually don evening wear designed by the illustrious Yves Saint Laurent, the iconic Italian couturier Valentino, and Bay Area's own fashion innovator Kaisik Wong, using a state-of-the-art try-on installation. This immersive feature allows guests to see themselves adorned in high fashion, blurring the lines between art and technology.



Paris's Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle

At Paris's Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle, the "REVIVRE" (To Live Again) project harnesses the power of Augmented Reality to reintroduce extinct animals to the public. This pioneering initiative brings visitors face-to-face with life-sized, 3D animated versions of creatures ranging from beetles to giant tortoises, offering a unique and immersive experience that bridges past and present in the realm of natural history.




National Gallery in London

The National Gallery in London has innovatively expanded its reach beyond its physical confines by introducing an augmented reality experience accessible via smartphones. This allows members of the public to encounter classical and modern artworks by artists like Titian, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Pierre Seurat, and Tracey Emin on the bustling streets of London through an Augmented Reality app.




The National Museum of Singapore

The National Museum of Singapore was responsible for an immersive installation called Story of the Forest, one of the most compelling Augmented Reality experiences in museums. The exhibition focused on 69 images from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. These were turned into three-dimensional animations that visitors could interact with. Visitors downloaded an Augmented Reality app and could use the camera on their phone or tablet to explore the paintings.




Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the "Skin and Bone" AR app breathes life into the museum's venerable Bone Hall, showcasing skeletons displayed since 1881. This app overlays images of skin and muscles onto the skeletons, illustrating how these animals would have moved and appeared in life. Highlights include a vampire bat in flight and an anhinga simulating fishing techniques, offering visitors a vivid view into the natural history of these specimens. The app aims to unveil the lesser-known stories behind these iconic exhibits.




The Pérez Art Museum, Miami

The Pérez Art Museum worked with artist Felice Grodin. Together, they created the first fully augmented reality-powered art exhibition, ‘Invasive Species‘.

In the examples above, AR adds to existing works. However, Grodin’s work for this project is entirely digital. It is intended to be a complete AR experience, conjuring images into an empty space. The installation involved a series of digital images and species, including eerie 3D models evoking creepy crawlies, jellyfish, or cryptic signs. Felice wanted to interact with and transform the building’s architecture. The exhibition comments on the fragility of our ecosystem and the threat of climate change. It transports visitors to a future version of the building, taken over by invasive species.



The Kennedy Space Centre, Merritt Island

At the Kennedy Space Centre, the Heroes and Legends exhibit utilises augmented reality (AR) to vividly recount a pivotal moment in America's space history. The display focuses on astronaut Gene Cernan's challenging spacewalk in June 1966, known as the 'spacewalk from hell.' Visitors can see a hologram of Cernan projected over the Gemini 9 space capsule, experiencing his ordeal as he struggled to return to safety, accompanied by a voiceover from Cernan himself. The exhibit employs AR holograms to personalise stories from NASA legends, enhancing visitor engagement with the space program.




As we look to the future, it’s clear that AR will play an integral role in reshaping how museums operate, making them more relevant and appealing in the digital age. By blending the old with the new, museums can continue to be places of discovery and wonder, engaging new generations of learners in the magic of history and art.

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