How Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality Transform Museums

2016 is indeed the year when Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have gone from virtual to reality as the technologies have matured to benefit mass users. Although the number of museums adopting the technologies is still moderate, VR/AR isn't any more a fancy technology seen in large museums but has been used in various smaller cultural sites in Europe. The Helsinki City Museum (“Time Machine”), the Heureka Science Center (“Excavation in VR”), the Norwegian Maritime Museum ("Noboby will drown") and the Danish Castle Centre (“Ghost Hunt and VR Guide”), to name a few. The surge in VR/AR and the releases of more affordable devices create new opportunities for museums and make it more possible to adopt the technologies.

2017 is around the corner so we want to take a step back to review how AR/VR has transformed the museum experience and will continue to influence the cultural sector.

Why come to a museum if people can see objects virtually?

The fear of being replaced by VR and virtual platforms exists in some museums. What is the role left for museums if people can access to collections immersively and in the comfort of their home? Some consider the virtual realm a threat while others see opportunities to offer new experiences and be appealing to new audience.

VR fosters audience’s curiosity and makes them want to see more

Many of us perhaps have heard about the Bronze Age VR project of the British Museum. The project successfully demonstrated that displaying objects in virtual reality did not lessen or replace real life experiences with the objects but rather enhanced the experiences. VR adds a context to the objects; thus, as observed from the project, the VR tour fostered the audience’s curiosity, made them want to see more, and then inspired them to seek information in real life. (Read more about the case and tips for developing VR experiences)

AR enlivens museum exhibits

Why museums are starting to use AR? There is something fascinating about the concept of AR, the idea of adding life to static objects in the real world with sounds, visual contents and additional information, and the notion of extending the limits of physical space. A smartphone can be turned into a personal guide that can not only provide textual stories but also shift time and wake up the objects.

Sworldfish AR App

One of the most prominent examples of AR is the Skin & Bones AR app used at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The app adds flesh to the bones of creatures, providing a fun learning experience and a playful platform for imagination.

Approaching the millennials

Young generations nowadays don’t visit museums as often as older generations. It isn’t that the history, culture or art isn’t relevant to millennials but rather museum-going experiences don’t match their lifestyles and expectations.

Millennials from a study conducted by the Center for the Future of Museums emphasized that interactive, immersive, and participatory activities are what they want from museums. They described museums as static places (“places that exhibit things”), educational places (but not necessarily places where the learning was fun or engaging), and places where you had to be quiet and stand outside looking in.

“Even if I didn’t want to touch the Mona Lisa, I want to have the option to touch it. You go to a museum and you’re just walking around looking at everything. And not even that you want to touch anything but it just seems like ‘OK this is the museum, and this is me.’ We’re not connecting on any level other than visual.” – says one millennial.

Whether we like it or not, technologies are an inseparable part of millennials’ life today. Museums are still making their ways to the use of new technologies. Increasing sophisticated VR/AR will bring new opportunities and immersive storytelling tools to create the impact and the experience that are more optimized to what young people are looking for.

About Versoteq

Versoteq is one of the leading providers of 3D scanning and AR/VR services to cultural organizations in the Nordics. We work with museums and organizations to offer engaging and accessible visitor experiences by leveraging 3D technologies. More about us: