VR / AR Museums — Where are we heading?

Source: Skin & Bones AR app, Smithsonian

With the increasing interest in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), what will museums do as they march forward into the digital age?

What is VR? VR is an immersive experience requiring a headset such as the Sony PlayStation VRHTC Vive, and Oculus Rift being the most popular. The issue with VR headsets is the prohibit cost to the consumer ($250 to $500 USD).

So what is AR? AR is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike VR, which creates a totally artificial environment, AR uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. AR provides more freedom for the user (using a mobile device such as tablets, smartphones or computer station).

From the Versoteq site, it notes that “although the number of museums adopting the technologies is still moderate, VR/AR is not seen as a fancy technology only used in large museums but has been used in various smaller cultural sites in Europe. The Helsinki City Museum (“Time Machine”), the Heureka Science Center (“Excavation in VR”), the Norwegian Maritime Museum (“Noboby will drown”) and the Danish Castle Centre (“Ghost Hunt and VR Guide”), to name a few. The surge in VR/AR and the releases of more affordable devices create new opportunities for museums and make it more possible to adopt the technologies.”

AR is revolutionizing the interaction between the museum patron and content. AR brings to life static objects in the real world with sounds, visual contents and additional information. As simple as with a smartphone, a museum patron can have a personal guide that can not only provide textual stories but also shift time and wake up the objects. AR features allow patrons to explore historical spaces and artifacts in new ways.

Museums are in an difficult position: balancing the archiving and preservation of history and remaining relevant to  society in the present and future, while being cognizant of major financial considerations. Fortunately, museums are innovating and embracing new technologies, such as VR. Many reputable establishments, such as MOCA Los Angeles, the British National Gallery and the Tate Modern have recently incorporated VR offerings to their repertoire. Despite the cost of headsets, museums are embracing VR integrations with their exhibits. The VR experience allows museum patrons the luxury of browsing great masterpieces at their own pace, without judgment from other patrons for not moving fast enough or picking up on each nuance of a brush stroke. Stepping into VR experiences exposes museums to a largely untapped group of consumers and also simplifies art appreciation for those consumers, thereby encouraging interest and eventual patronage.

Source: New Virtual Reality tour of the Museum with Oculus

AR and VR or 3D-based experiences are additional end-points in the future for museums who continue to reach out to the broad spectrum of museum patrons. In time, VR will become an equal tool in the holistic story-telling and educational toolbox alongside the traditional objects such as labels and kiosks — all telling stories or even enabling entirely new ways of storytelling using those unique traits that VR brings to the table that cannot be done with any other forms at this point in time. To date, major installations of VR have resulted in museum patrons loving it, but only time will tell if it is the lure of the technology as such or whether it is the added experience that VR enables which is the true appeal.

Works Cited: 

British Museum. “New Virtual Reality tour of the Museum with Oculus” Accessed: April 6, 2018. https://blog.britishmuseum.org/new-virtual-reality-tour-with-oculus/

Koo, Jacob. “AR and VR could be educational — and profitable — tools for museums”
December 14, 2017. Accessed: April 6, 2018. https://venturebeat.com/2017/12/14/av-vr-educational-profitable-museums-moca/

Museum Next. “How Can Museums Use Virtual Reality?” Accessed: April 6, 2018.
https://www.museumnext.com/insight/how-can-museums-use-virtual-reality/

Smithonsian. “A Hall through New Eyes: Skin and Bones.” Accessed: April 6, 2018. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/bone-hall/

Smithonisan.”Five Augmented Reality Experiences That Bring Museum Exhibits to Life” Accessed: April 6, 2018.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/expanding-exhibits-augmented-reality-180963810/

Walhimer, Mark. “What is Museum VR and Museum AR?” August 27, 2017. Accessed: April 6, 2018.  https://museumplanner.org/what-is-museum-vr-and-ar/

Versoteq blog. “How Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality Transform Museums” Accessed: April 6, 2018. https://versoteq.com/blog/how-virtual-reality-augmented-reality-transform-museums

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