Museums and heritage sites offer riveting and enlightening experiences for individuals looking to journey to the unknown past.

While these sites and institutions aim to transport visitors to another space and time, exhibitions can only go so far to convey what the past was really like. Senses and stimulation are lost in nonreciprocal streams such as photographs, glass-cased exhibits, or signage. However, thanks to advancements in technology, augmented reality (AR) can be used to enhance historical experiences in an interactive and compelling way.


The Louvre in your Living Room

Museums hold some of the most important relics of our world and it’s up to them to decide how to share this knowledge with the public. The digital age has been very helpful for expanding institutional audiences thanks to tools like Google Arts and Culture. Now, anyone with access to the internet can explore the details of Greek terra cotta pots from 500BC and paintings from notable Impressionists. Google Arts and Culture allows users to engage with these resources from the comfort of their homes, making museum resources more accessible. But how can technology improve the experiences of those who visit museums in person? Augmented reality proves to be a promising next step.


The Museum gets Digital

The Skin and Bones app, developed by the National Museum of Natural History, uses augmented reality and 3D animation to bring 13 of the museums vertebrate skeletons to life. The app layers digital muscles and skin projections on top of the glass-encased bones to educate visitors on how the vertebrates move. At the moment, the program is only available in the museum’s Bone Hall where visitors can test the application with sea cow, sword fish, great ape skeletons and more.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, AR holograms tell the story of America’s legendary space program. The interactive welcoming center is full of rich learning opportunities for visitors to learn more about NASA and space through personal narratives. Visitors can learn more about famous astronauts such as Gene Cernan directly from the source! A hologram projection of Cernan is one of the focal installations in the visiting center, where visitors can listen to Cernan tell some of his most terrifying stories from his visits to space.


Reliving the Past in the Present

Out in the real world, historical and archeological sites could also benefit from AR tools. Popular tourist attractions could use AR to enable easier access to historic information in different formats and languages.

Archeoguide, an archeology AR guide, lets visitors to view life-sized, 3D virtual models of missing and reconstructed parts of damaged artifacts and buildings. It bridges the gap between past and present while seamlessly integrating virtual reconstructions into the natural field of view.

LifeClipper, a research-based project from the University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, is another example of AR’s applications for cultural heritage interpretation. Currently this AR system allows users to view medieval landmarks and streets in the St. Alban Quarter of Basal. Users can walk around the area while wearing a headset that projects AR visuals that match with an individual’s GPS location. The headset projections reconstruct the user’s environment to their medieval look along with visuals of virtual citizens wearing traditional period dress.

While this is only a snapshot of how this technology is being used, AR is a useful tool for enriching the educational and touring experience of museums and historical sites. AR advancements will continue to captivate audiences and allow them to establish a deeper connection with past events and historic places.

Augmented Reality can contribute a lot to museums. This technology increases the feeling of presence (one of the fields that are studied by the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, alongside with the Storytelling and Gamification fields), by providing the users with partial immersion since they still have access to the real world. This is a very exciting feature that could make the museum experience more fun and interesting and thus contibute to the preservation of cultural heritage.