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March 25, 2015 Dustin Langley

AR In Museums

Augmented Reality in Musuems

There is something mystical about museums, whether they showcase world history, artwork or the natural world. For managers and curators of museums, walking through quiet halls with relics of the past staring back at you can be cathartic and thought-provoking. It is this mixture of awe and curiosity that you wish to convey to your visitors, but not everyone has the ability to see the displays as much more skeletons or painted pictures. For these people, Augmented Reality might be just the ticket to bringing the past to life.


Augmented Reality is available through applications that can be utilized with an iPhone or other digital device. It is used to enhance one’s physical experience by adding information, images or sounds to a museum display. It often makes a museum experience more interactive by allowing patrons to read more about the display or the history behind it. Sometimes patrons can even manipulate the object without ever touching it.

In an art museum, Augmented Reality can add depth to oil paintings and three-dimensional manipulation to sculptures and other pieces of art. Simply by pulling up an application on their phone, visitors of art museums can read about a piece’s history and details of its creation that might not be included in the often limited space of a display area. In addition, augmented reality allows guests to virtually rotate a piece of art and see it from an angle they wouldn’t normally have access to.

Perhaps the most intriguing use of augmented reality in museums involves its use in natural history and science museums, where an application can animate dinosaurs, allow guests to watch a Neanderthal family interact, and turn a fossil into a flesh and blood manifestation. In the area of physical science, augmented reality can take visitors inside the human body or show the inside of an exhibit to aid understanding. For example, The Smithsonian Museum’s “Bone Hall” is a historic representation of over 300 vertebrate skeletons. Combined with this physical arena is an augmented reality application called “Skin and Bones” that allows visitors to learn more about chosen exhibits through the use of videos, activities and animations. They can also point their phone cameras at certain exhibits to trigger three-dimensional graphics.

The use of augmented reality in museums is in its infancy but it is quickly becoming a must-have for museum managers. Not only is relatively inexpensive to implement, augmented reality also brings a level of interaction to museum visits that engages guests of all ages. Many augmented reality applications are free, opening the door for increased exposure for museum curators who wish to attract more guests. Perhaps the best thing about augmented reality is the ability to bring exhibits to life, which also encourages visitors to express their natural curiosity for the world and its history.

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