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Museums of the future: Making exhibitions more interactive with technology

There will be 1.7 billion mobile AR user devices in use across the world by 2024, including adding a new dimension to museums.

The Seattle NFT Museum features original artworks along with explanations of the technology behind them, and is intended to help visitors navigate the new world of Non-Fungible Tokens. — © AFP
The Seattle NFT Museum features original artworks along with explanations of the technology behind them, and is intended to help visitors navigate the new world of Non-Fungible Tokens. — © AFP

Technology is ever-evolving in every aspect of our lives. Museums are one of the sectors you might not immediately connect with technological advancements, with their focus on preserving history.

Yet, today’s museums are looking at how they can include apps, digital interactivity and virtual reality (VR) in their exhibitions, to encourage further visitor engagement. In Italy alone, over half of museums were planning to introduce augmented reality (AR), even before the dip in visitor numbers during the pandemic.

With recent data from Statista estimating that there will be 1.7 billion mobile AR user devices in use across the world by 2024, this is a key technological advancement which museums need to tap into to stay relevant.

As an example of what is possible, multi-touch screens developer Zytronic has collaborated with its clients on providing some of the most interesting innovations in technology used in museums in recent years. Some of the key findings have been shared with Digital Journal.

  • The National Museum of Singapore is using technology to bring historical drawings to ‘life’ and encourage curiosity in flora and fauna.
  • The National Library of Korea is allowing the general public to engage with protected, ancient texts via projective sensor technology.

This article explores two examples, and our follow up article considers too more innovations.

Story of the Forest: National Museum of Singapore

The Story of the Forest is a gorgeous immersive art exhibition, based in the National Museum of Singapore. The installation utilises 69 pieces of art from the museum’s most prized collection: the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. These drawings have been turned into 3D interactive animations through the use of some creative technology.

National Museum of Singapore. By Photo: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57734896
National Museum of Singapore. By Photo: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Created by teamLab, a digital art collective from Japan, the Story of the Forest takes the visitor through the colonial history of Singapore, right up to modern day. Visitors can walk through the exhibition and view the gorgeous animated drawings. The installation begins with darkness, the images slowly revealed as you walk through the black space.

The interactive element is introduced via an app, downloadable from the Apple or Google Play stores. Once downloaded, the app allows you to snap a photo of the animated drawings and discover further information about the animals pictured.

The app has a section titled ‘My Collection’ where you can store images you have taken and work towards discovering all the interactive elements of the exhibition. You can also take a closer look at each individual animal and discover more about its rarity level and species.

This display functions as a kind of interactive safari, taking you through various habitats. It has been a permanent exhibition at the museum since 2016, proving its popularity with visitors.

Real sense library: National Library of Korea

The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism aims to continue facilitating public access to important historical artefacts. The ‘real sense library’ is part of this initiative, based in the National Library of Korea.

The technology used in this exhibition allows visitors to have a more ‘hands-on’ experience of artefacts that are usually kept locked away from the general public, due to their historical and cultural importance. Priceless items such as important documents and ancient texts can now be accessed in a safe way by visitors.

National Library of Korea. By Lee taehoon CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53580482
National Library of Korea. By Lee taehoon CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53580482

Zytronic helped in the development of the ‘Digital Book’ exhibit, a uniquely interactive installation which utilises the look and feel of a real book that visitors can physically touch and turn the pages of. The ancient text is then digitally projected onto this large-scale book, giving the illusion that visitors are actually handling the priceless artefact.

The result of Zytronic’s touch technology means that the contents of the book responds to touch gestures from up to 50mm away from the surface of the sensor. A single touch sensor was embedded behind the stack of paper pages and transmitted through the paper of the physical book itself. This concept highlights how technology can increase access and unlock experiences once thought impossible for people who are not specialist historians.

These innovations are explored further in a companion article.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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