Museum Innovations with VR, AR, and MR

Exploring uncharted historical realities in museums with VR, AR, and MR

With the rapid advancement of technology, museums are becoming not only reflections of history but also creative laboratories of technology. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) tools are offering new ways for visitors to interact with exhibits, delve into different cultures, and immerse themselves in historical events. These technologies are becoming increasingly popular in the world's largest and most visited museums. This article provides a glimpse into the world of museums where intelligent VR, AR, and MR technologies are serving as a window to the past.

VR, AR, and MR - what is it?

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are technologies that give visitors different interactive experiences with the real and/or virtual world. These technologies employ various methods to integrate virtual elements into the real world or to create a completely virtual environment. Below are the exact definitions of each technology:

  • Virtual Reality

This technology creates a fully virtual environment in which users can interact with digital objects and scenarios that simulate real-world conditions or fully fictionalized environments. VR devices are designed to immerse the user in an alternate reality. The main components of VR devices include special goggles, motion-tracking sensors, and audio elements.

  • Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) enables users to integrate digital objects into their real-world environment, offering an enhanced user experience while maintaining connection with the surrounding environment. AR experiences are made possible through devices like smartphones, tablets, etc. Virtual elements are superimposed onto the physical environment using an app installed on the device and the device's camera.

  • Mixed reality

In mixed reality, digital and real-world objects coexist and can interact with each other in real-time. It is a technology that allows the user to interact with both worlds simultaneously. In MR, users are able to interact with and manipulate both physical and virtual objects using advanced sensory and visual technologies. MR combines the best features of AR and VR. It captures the real world using multiple cameras and sensors, and then projects it onto a screen in front of the user's eyes. MR requires goggles or devices such as Microsoft HoloLens, HTC Vive, or Magic Leap, which allow users to see and interact with the real world while also experiencing virtual elements.

Each of these technologies has its own strengths and applications, enriching various activities, including education.

The potential of these technologies in museums

VR, AR, and MR can help enrich the museum experience and attract a wider audience. Interactive museum exhibitions promote increased engagement from people of all ages, including young explorers. Being able to not only see but also directly interact with the exhibits in the museum contributes to a better visitor experience. Here are some examples of how virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality technologies can be applied in museums:

  • Virtual tours

VR. Virtual reality goggles enable museum visitors to explore exhibits without leaving the designated museum area. VR technology integrates guided narratives about the museum spaces and exhibits, ensuring high-quality content.

AR: Using mobile devices, visitors can see digital images or additional information next to each exhibit in the museum. AR brings exhibits to life and presents the museum in an interactive and immersive way.

MR: Visitors can simulate ancient times using mixed-reality technology, while also interacting with the real world. This ensures that the stories behind the exhibits are highly engaging for museum visitors.

  • Interactive museum exhibits

MR: Mixed Reality solutions can make exhibits interactive, responding to visitors' movements while presenting their stories.

  • Enhanced information provision

AR: Mobile apps can augment exhibits with added information, historical contexts, or interactive elements. Visitors can easily access the information by pointing their cameras at the exhibits.

VR: Users can use VR goggles to get extended information about the exhibits and their origins.

  • Simulations and restoration

VR: Museums can use VR technology to present damaged archaeological finds by virtually restoring the missing part of an artifact.

  • Education and training

VR/AR/MR: The use of educational programs or teaching modules in museums, incorporating virtual elements, would enhance audience engagement in learning about history, art styles, or other scientific topics.

These technologies offer the opportunity to create dynamic and interactive museum experiences, attracting a wider audience and enabling visitors to gain a deeper understanding and engagement with history and art.

How do the world's great museums use VR, AR, and MR?

VR, AR, and MR technologies are widely used in the world's most famous museums. Here are some examples of how museums have utilized these technologies to enrich their exhibitions and presentations.

  • VR technologies

The Houston Museum of Natural Science used Birdly, a virtual reality platform, to offer its visitors a journey through time. The ability to travel back in time to the prehistoric era, fly with birds of prey, see dinosaurs, and explore the environment of that time created a unique experience for museum visitors.

The Louvre Museum presented the first VR experience during the "Mona Lisa: Behind the Glass" exhibition, where visitors had the opportunity to explore the latest research on Da Vinci's painting techniques and processes. Using VR technology, the Louvre Museum presented one of the most famous works of art interactively. Virtual visualizations brought the Mona Lisa to life, enhancing the visitor experience.

  • AR technologies

To stimulate the emotional engagement of visitors, the Cleveland Museum of Art presented the Art Lens exhibition. This interactive exhibition allowed everyone to engage with art masterpieces using AR technology, bringing visitors into both the real and virtual worlds as they explored the displayed works. The museum's touch-sensitive systems, gesture-recognition projections, and other AR technologies ensured an unforgettable experience for visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The Austrian National Library used augmented reality technologies to ensure active visitor engagement during a tour of the State Palace. The family-friendly tour included augmented reality (AR) elements featuring three playful bookworms embarking on adventures in the six halls of the State Palace. Visitors could follow the journey of these characters and explore their surroundings using tablets.

  • MR technologies

A hologram of the first African-American woman to travel to space is revealed at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. In the installation, Dr. Mae Jemison discusses her career and the careers of other women who have taken part in the space program. Visitors wearing Microsoft Holo Lens mixed reality glasses can listen to Jemison's story and watch her move around the exhibition space. A hologram of NASA astronaut Mae Jemison at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, 2018

In Paris, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum of history and industry, has utilized MR technology to exhibit an icon of French innovation, history, and culture from the 17th century: the relief map of Mont Saint-Michel. Visitors to the museum can observe the rare artifacts in 3D, gaining a unique understanding of historical objects with the assistance of MR technology.

Final Words

Technological developments encourage adaptation to a rapidly changing environment, and the use of technologies such as VR, AR, and MR helps to ensure smooth digitization processes in educational institutions. Virtual worlds are becoming important not only for their ability to provide unique human experiences but also for raising public awareness on important topics. The latest technologies are increasingly used in museums worldwide to educate, engage, and encourage all generations to actively participate in educational processes.

If you would like to learn more about VR, AR, and MR applications in museums or other educational institutions, the Indeform Interactive team is here to answer any questions you may have. Get in touch!