Augmented Reality is Enhancing Museum Exhibits Across the Globe

The release and subsequent popularity of the Pokemon Go up has sparked a keen interest in the use of augmented reality (AR) to enhance the user experience. One place that Augmented reality is really taking off is in museum exhibits, not just in the United States but throughout the world. This increase in use comes as no surprise considering that AR’s features have the ability to both educate and entertain the visitor.

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality, oftentimes referred to as just AR, is the real-time integration of superimposed, computer-generated graphics into the user’s current environment. As with the Pokemon Go app, users can find and capture various Pokemon as if they were right next to them.

How Augmented Reality Is Being Used

The AR technology is just now entering the museum space, but there are many well-known museums that already are putting this technology to good use.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Bone Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has been a crowd pleaser for years, but thanks to augmented reality the complimentary Skin and Bones app allows visitors to see these bones like never before. AR technology enables visitors to add skin and movement to the bones on display. Visitors can watch a vampire bat fly away and see an extinct sea cow come to life, among other fascinating features.

National Museum of Singapore

The National Museum of Singapore’s Story of the Forest augmented reality display is a sight to behold. Visitors get an up-close view of a wide variety of plants and animals. The corresponding museum app works much like the Pokemon Go app. Instead of catching various Pokemon, however, visitors are encouraged to collect all the plants and animals they see along the path. Once captured on their mobile app, visitors can gain more information about each item caught.

National History Museum of Los Angeles

At the 2016 Dino Fest, the National History Museum of Los Angeles unveiled its BroadcastAR system, which literally gave visitors the opportunity to feel what it was like to stand right next to a T-Rex and several other dinosaur species.

While the integration of augmented reality has only recently made its way into museum exhibits, the trend is expected to grow in popularity. The use of augmented reality allows museums to put the fun back into learning and both kids and adults are loving it.

SUE the T-Rex Is Taking a Bite Out of Twitter

When Jurassic Park first hit theaters way back in the summer of 1993, the world shouted with a single voice, “The T-rex is still the king of all beasts!”

It was just four years later, in the fall of 1997, that the Field Museum in Chicago paid $8.4 million to bring home SUE, the most complete and magnificent T-rex skeleton still in existence.

Over the years since, SUE has been intimidating toddlers and fascinating pre-historic beast lovers from the lobby of the Field’s main hall, becoming one of the biggest draws on the entire museum campus. Meanwhile, the 3D-modeled avatar of SUE has chilled IMAX movie viewers with her savage beauty.

Now, SUE is finding a new home in more ways than one. First of all, SUE’s profile stomped onto Twitter, where the @SUEtheTrex account is now making paleontology fun for a whole new generation of dinosaur fans. The clever and interactive tweets coming from SUE in the first person (first beast?) serve as a prime example of how museums everywhere can build on the excitement of popular exhibits to achieve a more active museum outreach on social media.

One aspect about SUE has changed significantly since the skeleton was first named after SUE Hendrickson, who discovered the bones in South Dakota. Scientific opinion has been divided on how to determine the sex of T-rex skeletons. Because of this, SUE isn’t referred to as “she” anymore, but with the neutral “they” pronoun, e.g. “SUE is a T. rex. They are a majestic murderbird, and Chicago is lucky they grace the city with their presence.”

In the real world, SUE’s bones are getting ready to travel again. SUE is moving upstairs to make room for the titanic skeleton of Patagotitan mayorum, a 122-foot-long ancient monster from Argentina.

SUE will be walking, not skulking anymore, in a private “suite”, The Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet, when their complete skeleton is reassembled in the spring of 2019.

Until then, look for SUE in cyberspace, on IMAX screens across the country and in a nearby Twitter newsfeed. Take a scroll through SUE’s recent tweets about the dismantling experience and imagine what this approach could do for marketing teams at similar museums all over the world.

Can Social Media Improve your Museum’s Outreach?

Recently, the Google’s Arts & Culture App went viral, when people realized they could upload their selfies to be matched to historical paintings. Before this, the app still existed to share great works of art with the masses. Certainly, the sensational nature of the matching feature has increased traffic and usage of the app — and, that makes it an extremely successful example of using social media for academic outreach.

Integrating Social Media into the Museum

To successfully use social media in the Science communication (Scicomm) space, especially when it comes to museums, a different voice and way of thinking are necessary. No longer do we live in a world of outbound information. Today’s social media platforms require robust engagement and relating to users, and that incurs a cost that is frequently burdensome to programs held together by a shoestring. Though initially, it’s challenging to point out the return on investment (ROI) of social media, it fairly soon becomes apparent that, when done correctly, it can generate traffic and enthusiasm. Museums are constantly assessing how visitors engage with exhibits, and understanding how visitors are interacting with a museums website and social media outreach is just as essential.

Let’s take a look at the way a few museum programs are impacting people via social media.
VanGoYourself – Similar to the Google selfie app, VanGoYourself encourages people to take a photo of themselves. But this time, the photo is one that mimics one of Van Gogh’s famous paintings. Ancient culture collides beautifully with the modern world using this app, and it is great for lots of laughs while motivating users to learn more about art.

Society for Historical Archeology (SHA) – Based in Boston, this organization has taken to the web to increase interest in their programs and found great success. SHA’s online presence includes blogs, a website and a number of social media accounts they use to tell people, and show them, what is new and exciting. They’ve learned that different social platforms are best for certain types of sharing; Instagram and Pinterest for great visuals, Facebook to tell a story, Twitter to make a quick announcement or provoke thought. They also realized early on that strong branding is vital, and original content is key especially visual images.

How Active can you Be?

Simply being present on a blog or social media will not work well for outreach. A website can remain stagnant and still be useful and informative, but if you put in the time to create a blog/Facebook/Instagram and then you only post every few months, it can be a waste of your time and actually be destructive to your outreach goals.

For example, social media platforms and are now becoming a primary method of contact for many organizations. When you create a social media account, you are usually creating a new message inbox. Anyone who can view your public profile can send you a message. If you do not have the time to devote to this communication, it can send the message that engaging is not important. Your goal should be to consistently engage with compelling content and communication, and you should know how you will do this before you start creating profiles.

Creating a plan to make your social media platforms work for your academic outreach is key to pulling everything together successfully, and understanding who is being reached is where user experience research and design can be invaluable to your organization.