Can AR help visitors’ enjoyment and learning in museums? We are just beginning to play to see whether we can create fun activities without spending a lot of money. We would like them to be usable in two ways
- on a user’s own phone/tablet
- on a tablet loaned to them by the venue without necessarily needing to be online [heritage sites are sometimes characterised by having thick walls and are wifi-challenged].
We have neither the expertise nor the desire to implement native apps, both because of the costs of maintaining apps across multiple platforms and because of visitors’ resistance to loading apps. We have also had a bad experience using someone else’s app which was removed without warning [Everytrail] so we are looking at implementing webapps. Our first experiment is with an iPad running IOS11, Jerome Etienne’s ar.js tracking suite on top of ARToolkit and a couple of models downloaded from Sketchfab. Here they are in the Museum of English Rural Life (Reading, UK).
There are some problems with using iPad.
- IOS now (version 11) does support WebRTC on Safari but putting the website from Safari to the home page does not work
- it is not supported on other browsers (e.g. Chrome)
- also does not work in the Kiosk Pro app.
- IOS does not allow audio to be played without some user interaction which means the user doesn’t hear the cock crow once he comes into view
- Safari requires the user to accept whether the camera can be used or not which adds another hurdle to ease of use
Such problems don’t exist on a 6 year old laptop running Windows 7 for example so it was disappointing to find that the iPad felt less usable.
All this may mean we have to abandon thoughts of using the iPad for anything other than visitors bringing their own and in sites with good wifi, unless we can tie things down using guided access. In other experiments, the Kiosk Pro app has enabled us to load all the code into the iPad, lock it down sufficiently so that the visitor cannot ‘break out’ into another activity, and safely allow them to use the activity without supervision/having to constantly check that nothing has stopped working. [See for example the Ladybird book which formed part of an exhibition some years ago and needed no supervision]
We hope that Apple will lift these restrictions. We will now experiment with Android devices.
A webapp first created for the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology was adapted to form a Christmas-themed online game. Amongst the Christmas-related objects were tree decorations illustrating some of Reading’s iconic spaces such as the Abbey gateway, with extra penalties imposed for mistakenly ‘splatting [tapping or clicking]’ them.
In September 2017, the All of a Twist exhibition explored aspects of the science and art of twisty-turny stuff in, on, beside and above Reading’s rivers. Mini-webapps shown on iPads illustrated the workings of Reading Abbey’s watermill, showed videos of local Thames turbines and presented audios of a child reading her river-eddies poem and a ‘twisting’ song. An artist’s piece ‘FLOW’, installed with the help of Reading’s local Internet of Things community, was controlled by a micro-computer driving LEDs illustrating the height of the Thames, alongside a tablet display encased in a wooden box lasercut at RLab (Reading’s Makerspace).
In IT terms iMuse’s input is very lightweight. We help the Reading Abbey on Wheels project by attending events with the tricycle in ‘Abbey livery’ and provide an art activity based on painting tiles. Tiles are photographed and an on-line gallery Tweeted. The main aim of the activity is to encourage participants to look closely at (and handle) original 900 year old tiles and other artefacts from the Abbey and then to try out the Museum’s Virtual Reality ‘tour’ of the ruins. The mixture of activities means there is something to appeal to all ages.
Inspired by the locally-manufactured tricycle in Reading Museum, we ran an information tricycle supporting Reading 2016 Year of Culture. The tricycle was connected to the fledgling Things Network being setup by the local ‘geeks’ community with a GPS tracking device. The aim was to create interest in this new venture, providing a ‘way in’ to discuss the Year of Culture with passers by who perhaps had a more technical rather than heritage bent. 60 venues/events were attended, including ‘Cleaning for the Queen’ and as part of ‘Light up Reading’.
This project was run by Reading Museum as a Happy Museum project (Paul Hamlyn Foundation). iMuse/iOpener was able to support it with a contribution to accessibility with captioning being added to the film by Ginger & Pickles Production Company, getting visitors’ views on Reading through the iOpener days in March 2015 and introducing visitors to the film in the RG spaces tent at the East Reading Festival, June 2015.
The iMuse programme aims to enable everyone to increase their enjoyment of, learn from and interact with museums, galleries and similar public spaces. We are working with museums and galleries and their visitors to try out various types of mobile device such as smartphones and iPads accessing virtual space and interacting with the real space.
The iMuse programme started in late 2011 and was managed by the charity, AACT, in partnership with small/modest sized museums and galleries. The Reading-based charity, RG spaces, is managing the programme from mid 2015.
We run projects, testing out methods with museum staff, volunteers and visitors.
Along the way we have made some general discoveries and raised more general questions
iMuse has a sister programme which encourages the making of trails around Reading and it surroundings