Leadership in virtual and augmented reality is coming from an obvious, yet unlikely place. Museums are taking the opportunity to transform dated, or well-known exhibits into technological wonders…or at least adding something to exhibits.
In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has partnered with the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab to produce an immersive experience, where visitors can don a virtual reality headset and look closely at an exquisite, intricately carved 16th-century prayer bead up close. The exhibit, called Small Wonders, will have a series of items that are usually found behind glass, and with a small piece of paper next to them describing what the visitor is seeing.
Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History has created an app that lets visitors identify nearby points of interest, and get additional information on exhibits they are looking at. But they have lofty goals, with their technology team working on technology that will allow visitors to experience playing golf on Mars, and other AR experiences. These at the moment are principally focused on the science arena, educating people while entertaining them, but the application across the museum spectrum are limitless. The Museum of Natural History already has a working prototype of a nature-based experience – viewers can use a device or headset, aimed at a Mako shark hanging from the roof of the museum, to see its skeleton and movements.
As technology advances and other areas continue the uptake, it’s dizzying to think what the education experience will be like for generations to come. Even now, children and adults alike can look forward to, in the very short term, new and exciting versions of exhibits we know well.
It seems that the concept of visiting new worlds through augmented in virtual reality as sold to us in Star Trek and other science-fiction shows, is far closer than we think. The implications for how people learn, and what people see – being able to actually experience an incident rather than being forced to interpret it – mean that the frustration of historical fact, in that it gets blurred from generation to generation, will be at an end.

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