Kevin Madden is the Blanton’s go-to guy on all things tech-oriented as the administrative staff’s helpful desktop support specialist. Below he writes about museum technology trends he’s following.
Not only are there many exciting possibilities for utilizing technological tools to enhance the visitor experience within the museum, but the ready availability of technology, literally at people’s fingertips, has also changed the way many visitors expect or want to receive information. Museums around the world are finding new ways to use now common technology like smartphones and tablets as well as using new and emerging technologies to provide enhanced experiences for visitors in and out of the museum. In 2013, you’ll see the Blanton using more of the technologies below!
Cell phone audio tours are a somewhat new way to provide audio tours in galleries instead of the traditional audio tour devices offered to visitors at the museum. The advantage for the visitor is that they can use the phone they already have and know how to use, no need to check out a bulky audio tour device they may have to spend a little time learning how to use. Smartphones are being used to provide mobile tours with multimedia content. Not only can mobile tours like these provide a variety of information about individual objects, they can also be used to create virtual guided tours of an exhibition or collection. Mobile tours are useful for people who may not wish to go on a docent lead tour, but still want to have access to the type of expanded information provided on tours.
Once the iPad was released it didn’t take long for its possibilities as a tool for docents or other tour guides to be realized. The size and weight of the iPad and other tablets and their ability to display a variety of multimedia content easily and quickly makes them very useful in small group tours to display photos, videos, audio, or other types of information to illustrate what is being presented. Their small size and intuitive interface also make tablets useful for placement in galleries as an interactive way to provide information and educational information.
Smart objects are small codes, such as QR codes, barcodes, or other devices that can be read by a smartphone which lead to information either on the Internet or in an app. The more common of these right now are QR codes which are the square black and white squiggly looking barcodes you may have seen in a variety of places such as signs, flyers, or brochures (pictured on the right). QR codes can be scanned by special apps on a smartphone and lead to a website or provide textual information. They take up little space, so are fairly unobtrusive. Some more emerging types of smart objects are devices that use radio frequencies that can be read by capable smartphones or other devices when they are nearby. This is similar to how credit cards with chips in them simply have to be tapped on a pay station at the store rather than swiped.
Augmented reality is a technology that uses the view through the camera of a tablet or smartphone to layer information onto the visual image. For instance, an augmented reality application can use information from online sources to pop up information about nearby businesses as you stand on the street and move your camera around you. In the museum, the same idea can be used to provide additional information or even multimedia content when moving your camera across a gallery. It can also be used outside the museum to provide information about the locations and building around you. Two good examples are the Museum of London’s “Streetmuseum” which provides historical information about locations in London. And the Hull History Viewer which shows recreations of local buildings in their original surroundings.
If you’d like to learn more about the use of technology in museums, you can visit the website of The New Media Consortium. Each year the NMC publishes the Horizon Report which tracks new and emerging technologies in the education and museum worlds. The Edward and Betty Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA) is an organization that provides information about emerging technologies for museums.