What are Smart Objects?

A smart object is simply any physical object that includes a unique identifier that can track information about the object. There are a number of technologies that support smart objects: radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, quick response (QR) codes, and smartcards are some of the most common. Objects that carry information with them have long been used for point-of-sale purchases, passport tracking, inventory management, identification, and similar applications. RFID tags and smartcards “know” about a certain kind of information, like how much money is available in a user’s account and how to transfer the correct amount to a retailer for a given purchase, or which book is being checked out at a library, who the patron is, and whether that patron has any currently overdue materials. QR codes can be read by many camera-enabled mobile devices and can call up a wealth of information about the object tagged with the code.

Smart objects connect the physical world with the world of information. They can be used to digitally manage physical things, to track them throughout their lifespan, and to annotate them with descriptions, opinions, instructions, warranties, tutorials, photographs, connections to other objects, and any other kind of contextual information imaginable. Thus far, smart objects are awkward to tag and difficult to scan for the everyday user, but that is beginning to change as manufacturers create user-friendly systems for tagging, scanning, and programming smart objects.

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

  • Right know QR codes are being integrated into museum exhibits so that photographs of the pieces can be easily uploaded online and organized. - Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011
  • - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 We are constantly trying to find ways to associate visitors with digital content they create or decide they want to collect. Smart objects like RFID tags, barcode tickets, QR codes, are all mentioned as possible technologies to anonymously associate a specific person with the digital content they work with during a museum visit.
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 personal identifiers, like passports to exhibitions, Visitor cards, etc.
  • - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 At a very basic level, QR codes can take the place of more traditional methods of triggering mobile content (i.e., typing numbers into a keypad), so there's a clear and obvious benefit right there. We use QR codes at DAM as an easy way for visitors to download our mobile app as well.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • NFCs integrated with museum tickets, smartphones, tablets and even monitors. And more to come. - guy.deschenes guy.deschenes Aug 29, 2011
  • - ed.rodley ed.rodley Aug 30, 2011 The network infrastructure needed to accommodate potentially zillions of smart objects trying to be smart on your limited wireless bandwidth.
  • - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 I agree with Guy--NFC really needs to be included as part of this discussion. Also, some museums (most notably the Exploratorium) are using AR as a way to layer additional content on objects, which might also warrant a mention (though AR/Image Recognition, etc. is obviously a broader topic).
  • The cost effectiveness of these solutions: be it QR codes or RFID, the incremental costs of creating and managing tags for smart objects is not insignificant, and requires skills and management systems akin to collections management. Strategies for doing this efficiently and effectively are going to be important for museums to establish and share. - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011

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

  • NFCs can become a viable digital technology for the long-term. and oh surprise ! Museums and NFCs could become best friends in the world. Deployment of NFCs is still timid among smartphones manufacturers: the coming months will show improvements, especially if the iPhone 5 is to support it !
    Nevertheless, the right thing about it, it is a non-intrusive technology that will keep surpassing the QR code approach in the linking of things/objects with users (museum visitors/explorers). This technology does not require installation of third-party apps. The interlinking museum/smart object is direct and two ways. It carries a full array of possibilities, from administration of collections to interfacing with and by museum users/visitors/explorers, young and old. Am I too enthousiastic about the concept ?...- guy.deschenes guy.deschenes Aug 29, 2011
  • I think it will take the fear, learning curve, and long amount of time out of digitizing exhibits.- Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 I hope to see this integrated into Children's museums and in hands-on spaces for all ages. What I mean is, right now, I think this is underutilized. It is more of a gimmick, but I think that with thoguht, it can really engage visitors in seamless learning experiences.
  • - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 At the DAM, we've used QR codes in a number of ways. We initially deployed them as a quick and dirty way to trigger additional content (via a quick and dirty mobile-enabled Wordpress site), but the real goal of doing that was to capture more information about our visitors. Without having to build an app, we were able to determine what types of phones our visitors were using, where in the gallery people were more likely to use their phones, and what content provoked the most response. All that data informed our later app development efforts. We are also using QR codes to enable different kinds of experiences in the physical space--we hide them in parts of the building for scavenger hunts, we paste them on staff members' t-shirts during events, and we're looking at them as a means of triggering information about DAM content outside of the building. They've really expanded the capability of our (relatively limited) platform.

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

  • Museum of London - NFC. Visit this link and find more about the technology and its applications at the Museum of London. I was very pleased to find about it.- guy.deschenes guy.deschenes Aug 29, 2011
  • QRPedia is a great example of using smart objects to digitally organize exhibits: [[http://qrpedia.org/.- Sam Sam Aug 30, 2011]]
  • - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011 Museum of Science and Industry has cards for their You! exhibition.
  • - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 Not to self-promote, but the DAM's own DAM_SCOUT app uses QR codes as its primary means of triggering content.
  • - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011 And also not to self-promote, but we created a mobile version of the site for MoMA's Talk to Me exhibit (http://moma.org/talktome). Each object in the exhibition has its own QR code and hastag. The QR codes take you to the object pages with the text and other material (images, video, etc.) as well as the tweets for that object. Several objects in the related publication also have QR codes that take you to supplemental content online.

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