TECH MODULE 4.3: Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) is a (live)  view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by software-generated data such as sound, video, or (3D) graphics. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.[By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one]. (Source: Wikipedia)

AR in a cultural heritage context can be used in three main ways: Outdoor guides: they take advantage of the user's geolocation and point to monuments or places of interest, often through images from the past;  Interpretive mediation (of a museum, collection of exhibition) aka Storytelling: enhance the experience of users thanks to a profiling and related choices of museum paths or artefacts combined with narratives, or use it to reinvestigate the past; and new media art/virtual exhibitions: the use of AR in the creation process and/or the featuring of this art in overlaying it in public or exhibition spaces (e.g. Manifest AR).

For cultural heritage and museums, most exciting use cases would include: Virtual reconstruction whereby AR is used to show things at scale, such as a building, room or massive objects like ships, using 3D models. A good overview gives the article of Stuart Eve (University College London) that includes the Museum of London Street Museum and the CHESS project at the Acropolis Museum.  In addition, you may want to read about "Dead men's nose", a way to enhance the experience of AR through smells, quite intriguing.  AR can be also used to bring extint animals back to life (see, for example, the dinosaurs at Ontario Museum). AR for storytelling and interpretation that allows for taylor-made, user-centric itineraries through collections. AR storytelling using tablets is one of the success stories of the CHESS project that was listed by The Guardian among the 10 R&D technologies that are changing arts and culture.

If you have artefacts from ancient times or ancient ruins at your site, you may want to make them more attractive by using augmented reality (AR) (see below, the project showcases CHESS and TechCoolTour). If you own a photo archive of your city, you may want to invest into a mobile AR app that, based on the GPS of the mobile, its direction and camera view, shows images of the exact street corner from times bygone (see for example the London Street Museum above). If you have interesting architecture or buildings, you might want to enhance them through AR (see below, TagCloud project). Last but not least, you can use AR to reinvestigate the past, in particular how people lived in areas where nowadays there are only a few stones left (see the blog article on AR in the Bronze Age).

AR becomes more sophisticated (e.g. through Google glasses, HWD - head-worn devices, sensor wearables etc.), but a good AR experience is expensive. The least invasive way through smartphones and tablets is maybe the most interesting - and affordable - for many museums and cultural heritage sites.  Step 1: What do you want to use AR for? Most often, the user engagement is the core for AR, in particular to make "boring stones" attractive to young visitors and the general public. Step 2: You need to decide on the delivery tool: smartphone, tablet, or wearable hardware (e.g. headgear, glasses). This decision will depend on the budget available. But even a "simple" smartphone solution needs the software that links smartphone data (GIS info, views etc.) with the images and/or 3D models to "augment" the reality. Step 3: This links to steps 4 to 6 of the mobile apps module: practical info, professional content and - promote the tool!
If you are interested in the latest trends in Augmented Reality, you may want to subscribe to Augmented Reality Trends.

 Several projects dealt recently with AR for museums: TAGCLOUD project: Scenarios and Pilot sites for mobile storytelling using AR, e.g. in the Alhambra in Granada.
CHESS project: AR on tablets for the collection of the Acropolis Museum.

  TechCoolTour project: watch the video on their Roman and Byzantyne itineraries app with AR.