Are museums nowadays still something people value? A few statistics suggest that the answer is yes. According to the American Alliance of Museums, 97% of Americans see an educational value in museums, and 96% want to maintain or even increase their federal funding.

We can all agree that museums (and art galleries) are important institutions that promote learning history, art and culture. However, some people view them as unexciting or even uninteresting. What can we do about this? How about we make the experience more interactive and engaging with modern technology? Let’s find out how we can achieve that with VR & AR in museums.

How AR & VR in museums improve the experience

Virtual and augmented reality can help museums engage visitors and present exhibits in a completely new, interactive way. Moreover, new technology can help museum staff with research, exhibit design, and marketing. VR can transport you to different times and places, while AR can provide interactive and immersive experiences. Before we discuss the opportunities in detail, here is an interesting article about museums using AR.

Back in time with VR

Virtual reality experiences allow visitors to virtually travel back in time and see historical sights and events with their own eyes. For the first time in history, we can walk through the street of ancient Rome or witness the battle of Gettysburg first-hand. VR can also take you to places that are difficult or impossible to visit in person, such as the inside of a volcano or the bottom of the ocean from millions of years ago.

Or you could witness the Warsaw Uprising if you tried out the WWII VR storytelling application 4Experience developed for a Polish museum. Depending on the specific needs of the client, we can make such experiences ultra-realistic or more illustrative to fit younger audiences.

Make exhibits come to life using AR

AR can turn a static exhibit into an interactive experience. For example, you can point your phone at a painting and see the process behind creating this piece of art. Or you can walk through a virtual reconstruction of a historical site. Of course, this is information you could just put in writing next to the exhibits, but augmented reality is, first and foremost, better and engaging and passing on knowledge.

You can recreate virtually any historical objects or structures and project them onto the floor. What makes AR better than simple 3D models on a smartphone screen, in this case, is that you can experience the object feeling more real and natural, as it appears to be part of the physical world. It also feels intuitive to move around and view it from different angles, just like any physical object in the room.

Virtual tours of the museum

VR and AR in museums can make them more accessible for people who can’t visit these places in person. Whether it’s a disability or their very remote location, many of these people miss out, although they’d love to see what the museum offers.

With virtual reality, they can take a virtual tour of the place from the comfort of their home. The technology can help people feel like they are actually in the museum and not just viewing pictures of the exhibits. They can see the paintings and sculptures in 3D and get a better sense of the size and scale of the artifacts.

VR and AR in museums can be used to present available exhibits in the object, but it also allows for the easy creation of virtual ones. And in a world with metaverses around the corner, we can expect that sooner or later, every organization will have to use XR, one way or another.

Make learning fun

Museums are a fantastic, unique and important source of knowledge. But some people, especially younger audiences, might find it difficult to concentrate on the exhibits and repetitive written descriptions everywhere.

How can VR & AR in museums help? As we already know, their interactiveness means paying attention when using them. We naturally remember more from such interactive experiences and enjoy them more. Exploring the solar system in VR or using AR to play an educational game about different cultures will make you remember more of that information in the long term.

Virtual windows and AR without smartphones – an interview with Jan Kanty Janiszewski

Looking for more creative ideas for utilizing XR technologies in museums and galleries, I met and talked with Jan Kanty Janiszewski, who works as a Game Designer at 4Experience. Jan Kanty has worked on a very interesting project for a Danish museum in the past and agreed to share his experience with us.

Jan Kanty Janiszewski - Game Designer at 4Experience

Jan Kanty Janiszewski – Game Designer at 4Experience


So tell me a little about yourself first. What’s your professional background and experience?

My journey began in Denmark, where I studied Medialogy at Aalborg University. It’s a field of study that includes technological topics, learning about the human senses, programming, design and media analysis. Next, I got interested in game design and decided to study that field too. That’s how I got my master’s degree in Visual Game and Media Design at the Royal Danish Academy.

One of my first jobs was working as a designer in an NGO. But I worked mostly with graphic design there, with little technology involved. Next, I was hired at KMPG International as a Creative Technologist. After that, I worked in a company committed specifically to game development for some time.

Sounds interesting. And what role do you play in 4Experience?

I’m first and foremost a Game Designer but also a consultant to a degree. I assist our clients by providing price estimates and helping them choose the right technical solutions for a project so that it suits their individual needs.

I am responsible for designing the software we create. My work includes coming up with the mechanics, making an application map and translating that into development stages. Then I delegate tasks and oversee their completion. As a result, I receive prefabs and instructions (technical documentation), which I combine to create game mechanics in Unity.

Could you tell me more about that project you carried out for a museum in Denmark in the past?

It was one of the projects I worked on while in university. We wanted to solve a real problem of a real organization. We partnered with the Viking Ship Museum and created a digital exhibition for the winter period. The museum has a dockyard and when it’s warm, they create replicas of the ships used by Norsemen. It’s an interactive show for the guests; everyone can participate. Something was needed to substitute this in winter.

Our solution used a holographic AR display called Dreamoc. We designed a 3D model of a Viking ship, and we created an experience for two people. One had a toy axe, which they could use to cut virtual wood. It was painted in a set of specified colors which could be tracked by the device to determine its position. The other person would build the virtual ship from holographic pieces thanks to Leap Motion tracking.

young woman wearing VR headset while visiting a modern exhibition in a museum

Sounds great. What other opportunities are there to use AR & VR in places like museums?

One idea I personally like is virtual windows. I mean a digital display with eye-tracking that would change the image depending on the angle the user looks at it. This way it could simulate what looking through a real window would look like.

Augmented reality is a great solution for museums too. It needs close to no infrastructure but is very engaging and interactive. For AR, all you need is guests with smartphones and markers placed in the correct places. In a museum, you could use characteristic physical objects as markers. Once the phone’s camera recognizes them, it can trigger events in the app.

But if you’re, for example, touring a historical city with an AR guide, you could also use geolocation markers that trigger events based on the device’s location. This is something we used in a project called Augmented Routes.

As for other, less standard solutions, we’re open and happy to try. Almost everything is possible with proper R&D work.

Many people think that XR technologies are very expensive to develop. Is it possible to create something valuable with a smaller budget?

That depends on what we call a smaller budget. But yeah, of course, it’s possible. Simple AR applications can be relatively inexpensive and still valuable in their field. I wouldn’t recommend starting with a budget lower than 20 thousand dollars, as that would usually mean sacrificing quality unless you’re aiming for a Proof of Concept project.

What would you advise people who want to create AR or VR app to fit their needs?

It’s useful to have the functional and non-functional requirements specified and written down. Initial target group research, drafting a user story and creating a flow chart also come in handy. One more thing that comes to mind is listing the required systems, like saving and sharing data or generating scoreboards.

The more details we have, the better we understand the project and can meet the needs of a client more accurately. It’s also good to keep in mind that the more complex the project and the more features it has, the more expensive it might get.

We’re here to recommend the best technical solutions for your project. And not just the technical solutions [we offer complete business consulting in XR]. There are times when our client is thinking about an augmented reality project, but we see that there is a lot more potential in developing their idea for a VR headset. We help our clients find the solutions which genuinely work best. In other words, we take on projects that won’t bring true value.

man wearing VR gear while enjoying immersive experience modern art gallery exhibition

We’re more than a software house

Although we appreciate detailed project drafts, you don’t have to be an IT expert to create something special with us. We’re not just software engineers, so don’t worry if you’ve never worked on a software project and don’t know all the technicalities. Our experts, including Jan Kanty, are here to help you find, understand and benefit from the best immersive solutions on the market.

And if you’d like, our business consultants will walk you through all the steps needed to turn your new application into a commercial success. After all, our goal is to create working solutions that solve real problems, not just write computer code. Schedule a free 60-minute consultation with our experts now!

The author generated this text about AR in museums partly with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.

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