The “Night at the Museum” movies came with the tagline, “Where history comes to life.”
That tagline can now apply to the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, which has opened an augmented reality (AR) exhibit where guests can roam with dinosaurs, dolphins, rhinos, and even an astronaut. Museum visitors can experience the “Adventurers” AR display on the large screen adjacent to Devil Rex in the T-rex atrium.
“I think it’s going to be a hit,” said Adrienne Barker, director of the museum.
Friday was the first day for the exhibit and children and adults were drawn to the screen where they could watch themselves interacting with the AR animals, astronaut, and thunderstorm. Visitors could “pet” a jaguar, roar back at a tyrannosaurus rex, moonwalk with an astronaut, swim with a dolphin, dodge lightning bolts, and enjoy other interactions.
Barker said the main branch of the museum in Houston has the same program, but set up in a separate area. The Sugar Land exhibit is in the middle of the museum space on the main floor.
“This is more like you’re in the museum in the experience,” she said.
The museum has different programs it can run, keeping the AR exhibit fresh for returning visitors. It is a new, permanent exhibit at the Sugar Land museum.
Augmented reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment, whose elements are augmented by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory. With the help of advanced AR technologies, information about the surrounding world of the user becomes interactive, as objects are overlaid on the real world images. This overlay technology differs from virtual reality technology, which usually blocks out any outside visual information.
AR is used to enhance natural environments or situations and offers a perceptually enriched experience. Instead of remaining passive recipients, visitors can become active learners, able to interact with their learning environment and the dinosaurs on the screen.
The HMNS at Sugar Land AR experience allows visitors of all ages to walk with prehistoric animals, an astronaut, dolphins, and other exotics, and become a visual part of their world on screen.
Augmented Reality can contribute a lot to museums. In this specific example, people are able to see themselves in the screen interacting with different AR objects. Augmented Reality provides the people with partial immersion, because they still have access to the real world, which increases the feeling of presence (one of the field that are studied by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, alongside with the Storytelling and Gamification fields), because they feel that the AR objects are in the same room as them. This is a very exciting feature that could make the museum experience more fun and interesting.