Mobile museum guides are playing an increasingly important role in how visitors engage and learn in cultural settings. These mobile guides can not only communicate through audio details of the setting and the objects surrounding the visitor, but can also link to other related content and, through augmented reality, show the visitor imagined worlds that tie in with exhibitions and collections.

In August National Museum Cardiff embarked on a 16-week pilot of a new hand-held device that used augmented reality to create new experiences relating to the museum’s exhibitions. The pilot came to a conclusion this week and its success has paved the way for more explorations into how the device can be used in the future not just in National Museum Cardiff but across all of National Museum Wales seven sites.

The Museum ExplorAR offered three different augmented reality experiences, all in three languages (Welsh, English and Japanese), and each one designed to test and explore various different ways of enhancing storylines and elaborating on narratives in ways impossible through physical means.

Graham Davies, Digital Programmes Manager Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, says the main aim was to investigate how the museum could use this approach to provide its visitors with a cost effective means of enhanced interpretation and contemporary updated storylines.

Through the ExplorAR the museum was able to offer a shared, exploratory experience, as opposed to the more isolated Virtual Reality applications that were also considered. They wanted visitors to gain deeper insights and learn more about the museum’s permanent collection and the currently untold interlinking narratives behind them.

“New technologies allow us to scan our spaces and offer a geographically aware tour without any connectivity or data transfer requirements (not dependant on Wi-Fi or networks).”

The three parts of the collection that Museum ExplorAR augmented were the Underwater Life experience, the Dinosaur experience and the French Expressionist Gallery.

Through the ExplorAR device the Underwater Life experience offered the visitor the ability to witness how the museum’s animal skeletons would have actually looked ‘in the flesh’, by superimposing animated models that were true to the original creatures that the skeletons belonged to. This included a large humpbacked whale, augmented and animated to make it appear alive as well as sharks, stingrays and jellyfish that swam through the gallery, while crabs scuttled around on the floor.

By Adrian Murphy.

Main Image: A dinosaur skeleton is brought to life at National Museum Cardiff using augmented reality through the Museum ExplorAR tablet