Seeing Differently: Vision Technology in Museums
Museums have always existed to make art, culture and history more accessible to everyone. New technological innovations are redefining the traditional museum experience by changing how visitors can access and engage with exhibited artifacts. Eye-tracking technology and location-aware guide devices for the visually impaired will provide the 21st-century museum goer with a more personalized, immersive experience.
By Robert Chedid, Analyst, Strategy & Insights
Personalizing museum tours for the individual. Traditionally, a museum tour is led by a trained volunteer with extensive knowledge about the museum’s many artifacts. More recently, the pre-recorded audio guide replaced the tour guide, adding a degree of personalization and convenience to the experience. A new software application called Museum Guide 2.0 (MG2.0) works in conjunction with a head-mounted mobile eye tracker to create a customized tour for the individual wearing the device.1
The eye tracker synchronizes the user’s eye movements to an external scene camera that surveys the space visible to that user. When the application detects that the user’s eyes are fixated on an object, audio information specific to that object is delivered via earphones. The camera, equipped with object recognition technology to identify possible objects of interest, draws on a pre-populated image database that must store multiple images of each object to account for the multiple points of view from which an object can be observed.
Making museum visits more engaging for the visually impaired. Most museum visits are primarily visual experiences. Imagine studying a painting or reading artifact descriptions while navigating rooms full of statues, display cases, school classes on field trips and tour groups — it can feel like an obstacle course. Now imagine doing the same, only with a visual impairment. LodeStar is a location-aware mobile device that guides the visually impaired through museums.2
Using RFID technology, proximity to an object of interest triggers audio information describing the object in deep detail so the user can create accurate mental imagery. Hardware controls allow the user to select which triggered descriptions he or she wants to listen to and which he or she prefers to skip. In interactive displays, the device can instruct the user to touch the object (and in some cases even smell it), providing spatial information along the way. Redundant information about service area locations such as restrooms and the gift shop help the user construct a mental map of the space. The device is designed so that the controls are intuitive and can be learned rapidly, since users have only the length of a museum visit to use the device. Implications and Action items
Technology is evolving and redefining the way museums accomplish their mission of educating their visitors.3
While the basic premise of the museum visit remains unchanged, new devices are creating a more personalized, engaging and enjoyable experience for visitors. Here are some tips for marketers of any product or service:
- Reduce barriers for new audiences. Think about audiences your service or product is not designed to serve, and brainstorm creative ways you can use new digital media and technology to remove barriers to use.
- Design with your target’s special needs in mind. The LodeStar prototype’s touch-screen was too large. In testing, users said their fingers felt “lost” without any roughness, and important navigation modifications were made.
- Consider usability in context. MG2.0’s object recognition capability depends on a database of images that needs to account for viewing 3D objects from different angles, changes in lighting, etc. Consider the environmental variables that will be present when your product will be used, and select which are strategically most important to accommodate.
3 http://wndr.mn/e9ah, http://wndr.mn/mashable