Augmented Reality in Museums and Exhibitions: Improving Visitors Experience

augmented reality museum
Museums today face a challenge in keeping a steady stream of visitors coming in. As technologies become embedded in everyday life, seeing a static sculpture, a fossil, or the ruins of a centennial building, do not seem interesting enough anymore — especially to younger audiences who have grown up in a digital world.

How can museums remain relevant in our technology-driven society?

Critic, curator and academic, Robert Hewison, says, Museums are much more than repositories of objects; they are meeting places for people and ideas. Their future depends on remaining a dynamic part of the public realm”. The key to the survival of museums is dynamism, and apps utilizing new technologies such as Augmented Reality and Image Recognition might be the solution.

Bridging the gap between digital and physical

Of course, audio guides, QR codes and mobile apps are already being used by many museums to enhance the visitor experience, but that is not enough.

The goal of museums is to entertain and educate, and in the new museology doctrinestorytelling is at the center of the experience. Such interactive, digital narratives can be successfully achieved through augmented reality (AR) and related tech, such as image recognition. With the help of these technologies, visitors can see extra digital content on top of the view of the actual objects at the museum, and to do this, they only need a mobile device. 

Several museums started to develop AR apps to increase engagement by bringing displays alive and crafting stories that can make the learning realm of museums much more fun. Think ‘Night at the Museum’ blended with Pokémon Go!

Examples of Augmented Reality apps in museums

Augmented Reality apps had a strong presence at the Museums and the Web 2016 conference, including a GLAMi Nomination to the Kspace Augmented Reality Trial app, brought by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration Eye Candy Animation.

Kspace is an interactive game for kids where you can build your own time-traveling robot and then go on an adventure to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past.

It’s not all just games for kids though! The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History developed an app that brings dinosaur skeletons and fossils alive by just directing your camera towards the object. Using the Skin and Bones app, you can see life-size models of the species through Augmented Reality.

Technology is also transforming contemporary art. For example, Mexican “Virtualidades” was among the first exhibitions to experiment with transforming the art objects via Augmented Reality. When visitors held a tablet or smartphone up to the pieces, the objects “came to life”: broken mannequins became whole, walls grew robot arms and magical creatures appeared out of thin air.

This calls for art museums to adopt image recognition and AR technologies in order to keep up with artists and be able to display their work in innovative ways.

Benefits of AR apps for museums and exhibitions

If you are in the Museum business, you should consider integrating AR apps to improve your visitor experience. Here’s all that you’ll be able to achieve:

  • Create visual tour guides that are adaptable, updatable and viewable without special devices (using everyday mobile devices only).
  • Resurrect objects that people were not able to see until now, bringing people and objects that existed thousands of years ago to life.
  • Allow visitors to immerse themselves in virtual worlds and recreate entire building interiors and exteriors.
  • Turn education into entertainment through interactive AR gaming experiences for young visitors.
  • Create compelling storylines that can be taken outside the museum, or re-created differently during the visits, so the experience never feels repetitive.

After all, as well as preserving the past, museums and exhibitors must mirror the outside world to stay relevant if they want to survive.

If you are hungry for more content on museum tech, don’t miss out on our Case Study on how the Australian National Portrait Gallery used our tech to improve the visitors’ experience.

Photo and video credits: National Museum AustraliaCouncil of Australasian Museum Directors, Galeria Merida (Mexico), Museu de Mataró (Spain), The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (USA), Science Museum Oklahoma