What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality, a capability that has been around for decades, is shifting from what was once seen as a gimmick to a bonafide game-changer. The layering of information over 3D space produces a new experience of the world, sometimes referred to as “blended reality,” and is fueling the broader migration of computing from the desktop to the mobile device, bringing with it new expectations regarding access to information and new opportunities for learning. While the most prevalent uses of augmented reality so far have been in the consumer sector (for marketing, social engagement, amusement, or location-based information), new uses seem to emerge almost daily, as tools for creating new applications become ever easier to use.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 24, 2011 Arguably this is a technology extension that supports what museums do best: interpretation - and is just taking it from the physical (labels, wall text, &c) to the digital. I see particular opportunities for contextualising historic houses (the streets of London app is a good example), outdoor sculpture collections, and really all forms of comparative interpretation, conservation processes and techniques.- jludden jludden Aug 26, 2011 - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 29, 2011 - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 -- - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 31, 2011 - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011- len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011
  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Aug 26, 2011 I agree that this technology has obvious benefits, not just in adding contextual information, but adding on comparative material on how things were. It's like a high tech version of the books that you get in Rome that show you the Colosseum and how it's changed over time, only those used cellophane overlays to achieve it. Although the possibilities for monuments are possibly the most striking, artifacts that may be fragmentary can also benefit from this.
  • I suspect that once the x generation graduates from their e-book, animated, augmented adventures they are simply going to demand this sort of overlay from museum interpretation - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 26, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011 I am in agreement will all of the comments so far. I believe we will see the use of augmented reality and 3D technologies increase dramatically as they are coupled with heads-up display capabilities in tablets, smartphones, and contact lenses together with the use of haptic devices to provide dialogue between the technology and the user. Perhaps within 2-5 years, such commercially-applied technologies will allow for fully immersive interaction between environment and the user. As is usual, museum application of such technologies will likely follow more slowly, but inevitably, in at least some purposes and in larger, better funded institutions.
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 I would love to see us dip our toe into this, but is this something that would be deployed for individual users (on phones) or for groups (on tablets, walls, etc.) I would love to see VR deployed on a technology that enriches social experiences.
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 I agree with earlier comments, but I think the definition of what is Augmented Reality is changing. Layar falls in that camp quintessentially, but does google goggles? Does AR have to be immersive AR? Does AR have to use a visual component? How about audio-only AR, does that still count? I think a trickier thing about the adoption of AR in art museums particularly will be how well AR experiences can be designed - such that other 'non-ar' experiences can be had at the same time. (i.e. if museum X hosts an AR experience in the galleries, does that totally interfere with the solace-seeking visitor who desires a quiet experience with art?) Some design understanding of how to apply AR technology in a sensitive fashion will ultimately drive adoption. - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011 Hear, hear!- scott.sayre scott.sayre Aug 31, 2011 +1 - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 Agree totally: audio is the oldest and arguably still the most effective form of AR. Visual recognition like goggles is just the triggering mechanism IMO, kind of like QR codes (but better!) - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011
  • AR will be a helpful tool for making invisible things visible, e.g. the X-ray pictures or the preparatory drawing of a painting as Holly has shown it in Picasso's La Vie or the reconstruction of the Berlin Wall. But I fear that the fascination of the technically feasible surface of AR will dominate the benefit. At the moment we are far away from holodeck adventures visiting Jackson P. in his studio and discussing with him the composition of Lavender Mist No. 1. But it will be fascinating to do this in a few years. - harald.kraemer harald.kraemer Aug 31, 2011
  • - scott.sayre scott.sayre Aug 31, 2011 AR translation applications like Word Lens http://questvisual.com/ show great promise for providing universal translation for foreign visitors to museums worldwide.
  • - jludden jludden Aug 31, 2011Providing simple, yet engaging facts that are “layered” over historical sites, out door site specific artwork will be easily digestible by the public. Providing “layered” information about a museum’s location or about a specific work in their collection is a simple, non-evasive approach to giving users access without complicating their experience.
(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?
  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 24, 2011 at the risk of lowering the tone and talking about money, there are some potentials in overlaying merchandise info. Some of us already do it within our collections online (buy a poster/postcard of this work, buy the biography on this artist, exhibition catalogue available here) - just an extension of that.
  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Aug 26, 2011 I'm not sure if this is the place to raise this, but the downside to this technology currently is the lack of cross-platform compatibility and the need to create apps for the different platforms. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011
  • I dont know about missing - but what I would like to see missing is all the hype around augmented reality - I would argue that its here to stay - lets just get on with it - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 26, 2011
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011The theme of funding availability is missing as it affects the application of emerging technologies for small to medium-size museums. The traditional object presentation with printed labels will continue to be the main means of information transfer for most of these institutions. Only as the technology becomes ubiquitous and cheap will it infiltrate the less well funded museums.
  • creation as well as consumption. There are technical issues to do with gps in buildings but apps such as Sekai Camera (linked in projects below) offer fun ways to contribute your own commentary. It was demoed being usedas a navigation tool for City of Science and Industry Museum in Paris in 2009. Free app that people can use on their mobiles - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Aug 30, 2011
  • I would re-iterate the note above about technical implementation. We are still very much at the beginning of this technology and the implementations have not been without issues, especially those within buildings as noted above. And I do think there is also the issue of marketing the capability and getting people familiar with this new technology so they are comfortable using it. - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011
  • A discussion about ethical points of using AR in museums to define the boundaries and limits of the construction and reconstruction of reality and virtuality. - harald.kraemer harald.kraemer Aug 31, 2011
  • I still find that AR is a deeply contentious issue within museums--the whole issue of people being enraptured with their devices rather then using them as supplementary. How do we know that people want to use this tech INSIDE a museum? (Arguments against its use outside the museum are weaker, in my opinion.) Or is this just something we think is a cool technology solution without a real user problem or need to be solved?- dana.allen-greil dana.allen-greil Aug 31, 2011 It's much harder to use AR in the museum because there aren't many cheap and effective indoor positioning solutions yet. This is part of why I think visual recognition will be so important for museums for indoor locating and content triggering. But I see AR as a technology that enables visitors precisely to look beyond their phones, to see the "real world" just overlaid with additional content. I think it will be as important and fundamental to supporting the museum interpretation and learning experiences within the decade. - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011
  • - jludden jludden Aug 31, 2011The most successful AR that I have seen give access to visual information/cues that are hidden to the user. What did an architectural element look like 100 years ago? (Use AR to show the door from 100 years ago.) While text-based information can enrich an experience, it is a push of information and less of an invitation to an experience.
  • Perhaps this discussion needs to recognize that for many, interpretive and augmenting devices, even lengthy labels, are intrusive anathemas to those who simply want to enjoy a pure aesthetic or constructivist experience... or, say a "personal communion with the art." This is a great argument for the use of personal augmented reality (and personal devices, generally) in that it allows for the most malleable and customizable interpretive interventions (for those who will use a device) ranging from get-it-away-from-me-zero to highly detailed immersion. - len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 24, 2011 Definitely a richer, more visceral and more engaging experience for our younger, mobile-equipped audiences
  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Aug 26, 2011 The need to rethink the way some interpretive material is presented - think of the possibilities of what you can present, but be aware that you still need to provide material for those who will not be equipped with the technology to access the information, or you will need to provide the technology,
  • - david.dean david.dean Aug 27, 2011The potential is tremendous as it becomes readily available and inexpensive to acquire. Full immersion in the learning experience using a majority of the senses is far more fun and engaging than the traditional forms of presentation we see today. The current and future generations of learners will, of course, expect these technologies, as they expect texting, smartphones, and the internet today. They are growing up with these things.
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011This is a technology that could be a means of enabling visitors to relate to the original context of the works of art. Right now, visitors are presented with the museum context of the work of art. Technology could allow visitors to see works of art in the original context without having staff serve as a mediator/ translator. I think it could be very empowering to visitors.
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011Looking at the link about schools using an app, makes me think of another conversation we were having here. Some teachers suggested we create VR apps for their school groups to use in the museum. They weren't specific about their desires, but I think it does relate to this string in that clearly schools are seeing this as a possibility for museum experiences.
  • - ed.rodley ed.rodley Marker-based AR has proven potential to wed the affordances one gets with physical interactions (picking things up, moving them around, etc) and imbuing them with innate behaviors that are possible in screen-based computer activities.
  • - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011 Ability for others to add content to the space (a social, communal activity), and also to "make the space their own", as with the unauthorized (yet welcomed) project at MoMA (link below).
  • - jludden jludden Aug 31, 2011AR has an enormous impact on interpretation because it provides access to additional, rich information. AG can be distributed (via mobile devices) to a large group, but it promotes an individual experience – An individual engagement with a work of art or physical location. This is a huge opportunity for museums to find themselves more engaged (more relevant) to the public. With that said, I think it’s important to mention how AR can impact museum research and scholarship. Curatorial staff , Museum Educators and Researchers can use this technology to further their knowledge and expertise as well. Also, there are numerous marketing and commerce opportunities. Using AR, museums can better assist users by providing very targeted products and/or relevant promotional material. Within the walls of the museum, AR also has an impact on staff priorities and job responsibilities. While the technology experience is fairly seamless, the amount (and quality) of the content behind the AR experience will increase production time (and necessary resources).
  • - scott.sayre scott.sayre Aug 31, 2011 Most of the current hype around AR centers around mobile phones as the platform. While these devices are technically usable the UX is quite limited by the small screen, particularly when dealing with detailed images or video. I believe we will see much effective applications of this technology once it becomes more prevalent on tablet-based environments. One other limitation of current AR is that most applications work best in outdoor environments where ambient light often severely impacts the UX.
  • Allegra alludes to this, but I think special emphasis must be placed on what could start (has started?) as a small but tectonic shift in the museum/public balance of power with respect to museum content and interpretation. AR allows any one or group to provide the spectacles (double entendre intended) through which museum visitors might experience and understand content. A few years back a stir was caused when creationists used their own tours of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to "prove" their view....but imagine the amplified power of distributed or content-downloaded devices in promulgating their case. [My point here is not about creationism, per se, but rather an extreme example of using curatorially developed content in a manner totally unvetted and 180 degrees averse from intent]. Museums may have to learn how to help inform, embrace, or react to such independent endeavors. (I hardly expect to see signs at the door with the letters "AR" in a circle with a slash :) " - len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011
  • AR has especially interesting potential for historic sites and the depiction of scientific processes, e.g. see the battle at Gettysburg, observe different experimental results at a science center.... - len.steinbach len.steinbach Sep 1, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.