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Why and How: Museums Adopt XR to Survive

It's been a tough year for museums. Even with the influx of online exhibits and the availability of engaging technology, museums have failed to capitalize upon the COVID movement, and here's why.

The Moment

In the present day, brands need to foster a relationship with their patrons. It's true that some industries have seen economic booms during this pandemic, but for most of us, it's time to double down on a relationship of trust.

Not everyone can be Lysol or Zoom, so the rest of us need to take to the web like it's the streets, because, in 2020, it is. This means making yourself accessible to your audience. For museums, this means more than just discussing your closure and reopening strategies on social media. It means reminding your customers that you are still there for them, even now, when most of us are in some way, a bit down on our luck. I'll talk about what this looks like in a later section, but for now, operating at this moment means prioritizing trust and lasting relationships over profits.

The Attempts

There have been many attempts at prioritizing lasting relationships over profits and savings, some better than others. At the core of the best of these attempts, it is clear that the Museum is stating that they are here to continue to serve their community. These museums are saying, you can trust us to stay around and be there to operate as a center for arts and culture in whatever way possible. And while their physical doors are closed, they are still offering services to substitute for what they brought to our communities.

Here are some of my favorite examples of Museums that are lending a hand to their patrons around the world during these times and what I would have done to enhance the experience.

1. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

With the largest collection of artworks by Vincent van Gogh, over 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and over 750 personal letters, you can not only drop and click around the museum in google maps style, but you can also take a ride on a virtual tour via some flowing camera movement throughout the museum.

Both Van Gogh experiences are hindered through their accessibility. The google maps style exploration makes it difficult to see a majority of the pieces information placards and I'm often struggling with finding the right angle. While the more cinematic Tour is much more relaxing and offers absurd quality as well as a pleasant score, but in its artful pacing, it doesn't allow the viewer to take time on pieces that they want to stay with longer.

What would make it better?

What would have made this better is filming in 360 to allow for a hybrid experience of the two styles of virtual tours. Using a 360 camera allows the viewer to pace themselves and stay at pieces for longer without having to pause the video. It also allows viewers to experience 360 museums in VR.

2. The Museum of the World by the British Museum

This is a totally different museum experience. It's interactive, controllable, and accessible. It's an interactive timeline set on a Guitar Hero style track. Just give it a whirl or check out the short clip of me piloting the experience.

What would make this experience better?

The freedom in pacing and selection is something that translates incredibly well to the VR world, however, I see this being best bolstered by having Augmented Reality artifacts. The bulk of the museum tour is exploring history through artifacts. With AR, users can see how large these artifacts really are and can explore them in 360 degrees.

3. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Move through the 360-degree room-by-room tour of every exhibit in the museum and do it in VR! This surprisingly light-weight museum solution is awesome for enty-level VR users. You can beat the crowds and navigate through any exhibit as you choose with their helpful mini-map.

What would make this better?

Unfortunatelyantely, there aren't many movement options in the experience. Users are left with about one place to stand per room, making it near impossible to check out the details of exhibits or take a peek at some insects in the insect room. To solve this is tricky. A higher resolution 360 camera would make the experience harder to load, so I would opt to have more locations with 360 shots instead. This alongside interactive text features could compensate for the hard to read panels and hard to see sections of the museum.

Museums Using XR to become available to their patrons are providing a crucial service during this time.

Even though many of their current offerings have flaws, the museums that continue to offer their services through these hectic times are leading the way. They are providing free sources of education that are interactable and sharable. For that, they should be commended. The three discussed above are just some sample cases. I'll leave you with another list of three more museums offering free experiences.

  1. The Online Exhibits of the National Women's History Museum

  2. The Augmented Reality app from the Houston Space Center

  3. The Vatican's 360 tours

  4. Bonus: Our HETusks where we show some interactable AR artifacts and talk about the VR museum that held the mammoth tusk.

If you're interested in information on museums we have translated into the XR world give us a ping. For other MXT news give us a follow. For an AR elephant in the office check out the image below.

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