TECH MODULE 4.4: Intelligent Hardware

Intelligent Hardware is a term not yet entered into Wikipedia or the mainstream technology for cultural heritage. It is basically a real object that became "intelligent" through the integration of digital technology. The most interesting examples stem from the meSch project: meSch cases and the loupe.

Real showcases for cultural objects are enhanced with technology to interact with users. This allows for an analysis of the user behaviour - how long did they look at the object? Did they tweet about it? And provide additional information about the object. The case can also interact with the onlooker. In case of the loup, it is a hardware interface for augmented reality. The tool looks like a rather big loupe (magnifying glass) that, if held towards an exhibited object, shows augmented reality images and tells stories "behind" the object (as was shown by meSch partner Waag Society at the eCult Summer Stage).

In the meSch pilot at the Museon in den Haag, the showcases were mounted with sensors  within each case that would detect visitors approaching to look at the object inside the case. By monitoring how close visitors came and how long they stayed we could determine their level of interest in the object. A number of cases could be set up together and then a type of popularity contest could be created: monitor levels of interest in each object over a set period of time and then replace the least popular object at the end of the time period (Source: mesch-project.eu/creating-the-meschcases/). It provides visitors with additional info while at the same time interacting with them. The example refers to an ancient cap typically worn by membes of a royal family:
meschcasesscreenshot[Image Source: meSch project]

The loup in function can be seen at: http://vimeo.com/88233719

Interactive showcases: If you mount an exhibition and you are keen to know about users' behaviour, you might want to include some "intelligent showcases". This gives information about users preferences, interactivity and general interest. According to the feedback (that you can see via time records and tweets) you can change objects, exhibit new ones or create "Champion objects" - of a day, a week, or the duration of the exhibition. Such information can be included in games for visitors, e.g. guess which object is the prefered one and the winner will receive an award.
Augmented Reality Loup: The loup may be a tool more intuitive to a conservative public than a tablet or a smartphone. It would also be more practical, in order  to avoid downloading apps for AR by the visitors themsleves or prividing tablets for the visitors. It is potentially more robust and the loup metaphor is easily understood.
Picture taken at the Living Lab Pilot in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Currently, there is not yet much experience with this type of intelligent hardware, apart from the meSch pilot cases. It is clear that some (financial) investment is necessary, together with a trained personnel to analyse the results of the intelligent showcases, or to guide users with the loupe. However, depite of these investments, showcases can be re-used for more than one exhibition, as can the loup, once personnel is trained to add content to the back-end of the technology.

meSch developed the technology and hardware and carried out pilots: Loupe pilot and Showcase pilot.
For a general overview of the meSch tool, watch this 2 minutes promotion video.