In the past few months, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have become increasingly popular in museums, and their popularity shows no sign of slowing down. VR and AR allow exhibits and displays to come to life. This not only enhances the visitors’ experience, but it also enables the museum to attract wider audiences. But what is the difference between AR and VR and what are some of the most exciting examples of museums using this kind of technology?
1. Augmented Reality in museums
Augmented Reality uses technology to modify an existing environment by adding something (e.g. images, text, sounds, or other sensory stimuli) to what a person can already see. The users stand in front of an object and hold up a device (normally a smartphone or a tablet) that will show them an altered version of reality. Some of the most popular applications of AR are used in the gaming world, such as Pokémon Go. There are different ways that museums can use Augmented Reality. For instance, AR can provide extra information to the exhibits, display digital versions of artists right next to their art works, complement a display with sounds, highlight contrasts with the current reality, or project views of ancient times. There are already many museums around the world using AR. Here are two interesting examples.
The Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida. The Kennedy Space Center has an AR-based exhibit called “Heroes and Legends,” which allows the visitors to relive the thrills and dangers of America’s earliest space missions. Through 3D technology, the Center enables its visitors to experience the history of the US space program, giving faces and voices to astronaut pioneers who have made history. The exhibit projects a hologram of astronaut Gene Cernan over the Gemini 9 space capsule, throwing the visitors back in 1966 to what became known as the “spacewalk from hell.” The viewers can both see the astronaut and listen to his voice while he describes his experience.
The National Museum of Singapore. The installation “Story of the Forest” is an impressive immersive experience hosted at the National Museum of Singapore. The exhibition includes 69 images from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings that have been turned into spectacular 3D animations. These drawings were created by the renowned Japanese digital art collective teamLab. Through an app, visitors can use their smartphone or tablet to explore the paintings and to “hunt” plants and animals within the artworks. Once the visitors have collected the animals or plants, the app provides them with more information about these items.
2. Virtual Reality in museums
Virtual Reality offers a total immersion into an alternate reality. As opposed to Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality completely replaces what the user sees. It requires additional advanced technological tools, such as headsets, controllers and sensors. In museums, VR brings objects, scenes and stories to life. For instance, VR can be used to digitally restore famous sites, showing them exactly as they were in ancient times. Additionally, some VR can have applications both on-site and at home, making collections more accessible. Here are two examples of innovative ways that museums have used this technology.
The Louvre Museum, Paris. From October 2019 to February 2020, the Louvre Museum of Paris launched “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass,” a VR experience created as an integral component of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, which commemorated the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death. Through VR, the Louvre was able to offer its visitors a chance to have a personal encounter with the artwork. The visitors were able to see the vivid details of this celebrated oil painting, including the texture of the wood panel, and the marks where the panel once cracked and was then restored. The VR experience combined interactive design, sound and moving image to transport the viewer through time, unveiling how the artwork was originally created, how it looked in the past, and how it has changed during 500 years due to its exposure to light and humidity. Although this temporary exhibition is now over, the experience can still be enjoyed at home by downloading it through VIVEPORT and other VR platforms, including mobile VR on iOS and Android.
The National Museum of Finland. In 2018, the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki opened a new VR exhibit in which visitors can head back in time and step inside R. W. Ekman’s painting The Opening of the Diet 1863 by Alexander II. Wearing a VR headset, visitors find themselves within the scene, enjoying a unique view of the Diet of Finland, a legislative body that existed from 1809 to 1906. Visitors can even speak with the Russian Emperor and other representatives of different social classes, or visit the Hall of Mirrors of the former Imperial Palace, now known as the Presidential Palace. This VR experience was built by Zoan Oy, the largest VR studio in Finland.