Last night saw the Digital Think Drink at the Petrie Museum, it gave us a chance to trial a range of digital projects which aim to change the way we engage with material heritage. The Petrie Museum has become a living laboratory where real world applications for new technologies can be developed and tested. It was great to get some feedback and see people using the technology in gallery.
The four technologies (which are all still under development) on display last night were:
- QRator – an iPad-based interactive live object label. Who is ‘the Man from Mitanni’? Work it out with a glass of wine and find out why you shouldn’t trust museum databases on our iPad label.
- Talesof Things – connect to object information via QR codes and add your own tale. Or Follow the QR code museum trail.
- iCurator– curate your own exhibition in a 3D environment and collaborate remotely.
- 3D Encounters – 3D scanning technologies creating digital models of ancient artefacts.
For the past few months I have been working with UCL Museums and Collections and CASA on QRator, so I am slightly biased about which technology is my favourite… But all of the technologies on display are fascinating and have positives and negatives conceptually and in terms of usability. It was really interesting to hear what people had to say about them all.
First and foremost I think the Petrie Museum is a really interesting space. It looks amazing, stuffed full with artefacts dating back 5,000 years. Every available space is filled with a multitude of objects, so much that you can’t take it all in, in one go. You sort of lose sight of its context and become incredibly overwhelmed at just how many artefacts there are in such a small space! Over 80,000 objects in fact. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing, I like that there is a raw element to all the objects and you can sort of make your own meaning out of it. I suppose in a way it assumes that most people have a base knowledge of Egypt, as pretty much everyone studied it at school. It is also an odd juxtaposition to have Victorian style cases crammed full of objects, next to a iPad, or a QRcode and a 3D object, but I think that is what makes it all the more exciting.
I have already written about QRator here, and here oh and here (sorry! It’s probably boring you all) the basic idea is that you can add your own interpretation to the object on display or respond to a question that the museum curators are asking about a object/case/topics. We want to find out if mobile devices and interactive digital labels can create new models for public engagement and personal meaning making and give members of the public more of a personal connection with museum exhibition subject matter. There were some interesting responses last night on the iPad as well as some tweets using the #petrieQR tag. It’s going to be interesting to see how we know go about analysing the interactions.
Tales of Things, I love the idea behind this – ‘The Internet of Things’: the technical and cultural shift where every device is ‘on’, and connected in some way to the Internet. CASA with a little bit of over excitement about the museum potential from me, started working with the Grant Museum as well as the Petrie, and have developed a ‘method for cataloguing physical objects online which could make museums and galleries a more interactive experience’ (Giles, 2010) via means of QR tags. Last night, the Petrie made use of Tales of Things in the form of a tour round a few of the highlight objects. Wool socks, a cartonnage mummy mask and a mummified falcon to name a few.
ICurator is an interesting one, it deals with 3D rendered objects, display cases and museum spaces. Sort of a design layout tool, it has lots of potential for museum designers, particularly of temporary exhibition spaces I think, but also for more gamey create your own museum type thing. I have just done a user testing session of it, where I think I was overly critical, it’s an early prototype and therefore doesn’t necessarily have the functionality and usability that you might expect, but the idea of it is pretty cool.
Then there is 3D Encounters, which is a partnership between the Petrie Museum and the Ireland-based multimedia company IET (Íomhánna Éigipteach Teoranta). It’s a really appealing project and the website is quite fun. The kit is pretty cool… mmm lasers. The aim is to digitally record themed selections of objects and make them more accessible by telling their ‘stories’. The project will also digitally recreate some of the more rare & fragile artefacts, replicated for public handling and as a means of monitoring decay. There is something really compelling about being able to manipulate digital objects and being able to learn more about them in such a tactile (albeit virtual) way.
So yes overall last night was an experiment, I think everyone enjoyed it and it raised an awful lot of questions, how visitor centred is it? What about the digital divide? Exploration or learning? Technology for technologies sake? All of these questions we will be trying to answer as we move forward with the development and research of whether or not digital technology can increase access and engagement with museum collections.
If anyone wants to have a look at the technology in the Petrie, we are doing some more evaluation sessions. Ping me if you are interested.