Contemporary museums: digital storytelling, 3D printing and robotic manipulators

MuseumTech: from storytelling to robotics

Fully analogue museums have long been a thing of the past: even

exhibitions in small cities use digitaltechnologies, for example, mobile guides and QR codes, and immersive projects are gaining popularity all over the world - including in Russia. In general, museum attendance is growing: in Russia alone, it increased 1.7 times from 2012 to 2019. This is due not only to the expansion of museum funds, but also to the use of new technologies. Almost half of the Moscow and St. Petersburg museums are going through the process of digital transformation, and another 43% are preparing a digitalization plan. At the same time, the majority plans to experiment with virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Technology becomes supportivea tool to make a vision come true, but storytelling plays a key role in the 2020s. Developing a museum concept begins with building a story that engages the visitor both intellectually and emotionally. Museums analyze audience behavior, interests, habits and preferences to create interactive displays and engaging content. To do this, projects involve UX designers and researchers, as well as communication and storytelling experts. And only then does the team decide which solutions to use to implement the plan.

We applied this principle when working onexhibition “Yamal. Warmth of the Arctic ". At an early stage, the team collected a tremendous amount of information, so they initially decided to divide the exposition into semantic chapters. To do this, we focused on individual objects and facts that best reflect the history of the region. For example, natural gas in a liquefied state takes up 600 times less space than ordinary gas - this fact can be reflected using visualization. We also identified the semantic core - the warmth of the Arctic. The concept of the exhibition was built around this paradoxical contrast: Yamal is located in the far Arctic north, but at the same time radiates heat far beyond its geographical boundaries - both in the physical and in the metaphorical sense. This denominator, as a single line, connected all the chapters.

In the case of Yamal, we had a taskshow different sides of the region: on the one hand, its powerful transport infrastructure and developed oil and gas industry, and on the other, the harsh and wild Arctic nature, crafts and traditions of the peoples of the North. We placed most of the exhibits in a kind of snowballs filled with imitation snow. Like time capsules, they store the conceptual modules of the 90-year history of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, which is why we chose this form factor.

Museums to build complex semantic chainsturn to creative studios that possess both digital technologies and narrative practices - together they create unique exhibits, write exhibition scripts and promote them. Experts from related disciplines are also involved in the work on museum projects: for example, the Peabody Museum in Essex has a neuroscientist in the state who studies the effect of visual stimuli on the human brain.

In recent years, a pool of specialists whoworking on expositions expanded. Researchers and scriptwriters, architects and designers, conceptual artists and visualizers, industrial designers, constructors and 3D modeling specialists are involved in the project. The entire process is coordinated by the technical director, but the whole team selects the appropriate solutions.

The selection of technologies in the museum environment should become neatly. Fashionable and new developments do not always enrich the experience and often draw undue attention to the technological solution, and not to the essence of the exposition. Therefore, experts talk about the so-called technological agnosticism. The team first of all generates the message, determines the tone of the narrative and creates content. And only then he selects suitable technologies, for example, uses robotics or uses 3D printing - as an interactive element, as a means of producing exhibits, or both at the same time. For example, the artist Sugwen Chung creates paintings using robotic manipulators, which she independently develops and programs - before the pandemic, they even participated in her offline performances. But even in this case, it is important to take into account the extent to which the technologies correspond to the concept of the exposition, its purpose and content. The choice is also influenced by the genre of the narrative - after all, an exhibition, like a text, can be turned into a fascinating non-fiction story or an action-packed detective story.

Museum rooms in the digital age

New technological solutions affect not onlymuseum culture, but also infrastructure. So, with the advent of video projections, museums have become more likely to choose more subdued lighting. And interactive sound installations have changed the approach to the design of exhibition spaces - designers have begun to pay more attention to acoustics and zoning.

Interactive expositions have also changed the trajectorymoving around the museum: guests began to move more freely and independently build a route without relying on a guide. Moreover, it became possible to visit exhibitions remotely. For example, in 2020, some museums conducted remote tours using teleconferencing robots. The visitor remotely controlled the mobile unit with a webcam - this allowed him to freely move around the halls and even interact with objects and personnel.

However, technology still cannot replaceguides and curators, as they have unique experience and give the author's interpretation of facts and events. Therefore, today the visitor himself chooses the most comfortable format of interaction: it can be an autonomous acquaintance with the exhibition or immersion in the context with the help of a guide.

Sometimes immersive content literally leadsa person through the halls of the museum - in this case, the visitor independently follows the prescribed route and is engaged in active knowledge. Such immersive exhibitions have much in common with a feature film or theatrical performance, and the museum experience is more like a "spectator session".

Immersion technology

  • Immersive elements

Of course, new technologies enhance the effectimmersion. For example, augmented reality sound allows you to construct soundscapes that accurately recreate the setting of a particular era or environment. Immersive elements help to form a more coherent and voluminous picture of the world. This is especially important in the case of tragic pages of history, such as the Holocaust or repression. Research shows that VR and AR solutions enhance empathy: even in aggressors, they create a sense of compassion for the victim. Augmented reality is often used in historical and ethnographic contexts, as these spheres are saturated with collective memory, contradictions and grievances. The immersive AR format reflects different points of view and makes it possible to build not linear, but multidimensional storytelling.

Audio andvideo broadcasting. Of course, for this it is not enough to put a powerful speaker and a standard projector. Museums use acoustic systems and panoramic screens that work in conjunction with 4K laser projectors - these are the devices we use at the Yamal. Warmth of the Arctic ".

Immersive technologies also allowtell stories in the first person, creating a connection between eyewitnesses and visitors to the museum. An interesting example in museum practice is a series of interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by the staff of the US Institute for Visual History and Education. Conversations were recorded on 23 cameras with 360-degree coverage. Using the received recordings, the authors of the project created realistic holograms of the heroes. Visitors can not only listen to monologues, but also ask eyewitnesses questions: the AI-based system processes their requests and selects the most appropriate answer in terms of meaning.

  • Interactive

Immerse the audience in a specificethnographic context and history allow interactive elements: by interacting with objects, visitors take the position of a researcher, not a passive observer. For example, how to show the speed and coverage of the transport network of the Northern Sea Route? A traditional museum uses an infographic or scaled-down layout. Our team found another solution - for the Northern Express exhibit, we developed an interactive object based on big data. The visitor approaches a transparent glass ball-dome, chooses any two ports in different hemispheres of the planet and views different route options. Dozens of variations are displayed on the virtual map, but the Northern Sea Route is always the fastest.

Another example is the Sounds of the North exhibit, whichreproduces compositions recorded in Yamal in the last century. We invite the visitor not only to listen to the melodies, but also to act as a "conductor". The exhibit is equipped with special processors that respond to touch - as soon as the visitor touches the interactive module, the sound of the music changes.

Touch panels, voice and tactile interfacesremove the barrier between the visitor and the exhibit. However, other technologies also cope with this task. For example, using 3D printing, museums recreate objects and allow people to touch them. The unusual tactile artifacts are made by Factum Arte, which recently recreated an exact replica of Rafael Santi's tomb using printed components. Thanks to realistic replicas, people with visual impairments can also get acquainted with the exhibits.

  • New production technologies

3D printing technology has really made it easierthe process of creating museum exhibits - even the most complex and non-standard ones. So, for the exhibition “Yamal. Warmth of the Arctic ”, the Lorem Ipsum studio team has created an ultra-realistic model of an Arctic berry - cloudberry. The miniature berries were 3D printed and the leaves were airbrushed from natural silk. To give visitors a better view of the object, optical specialists have developed magnifying glasses. A model of deer antlers was also created on a 3D printer - the largest in Russia and Europe - they were painted by hand and supplemented with symbols of the indigenous peoples of Yamal.

Robotics is also used to create objects.For example, for the exhibit "In the Footsteps of Polar Bears", our engineers used a KUKA robotic arm - the device laser engraved the surface of the ball.

Museums also involve experts inmaterials science - and even invent new materials. For example, to achieve the effect of a real snowball, the Lorem Ipsum team has developed a special fraction of polyethylene foam that, when combined with different types of impellers, creates a “fairy blizzard”. For each exhibit, balls were created individually by hand, so it is impossible to find analogues on the market. By the way, one of the largest and heaviest objects of the exhibition weighs about 270 kg and combines original artistic and technological solutions. This ball shows the layers of underground rocks - they are made of transparent colored acrylic, glued with epoxy resin and processed on a CNC machine.

Exhibits today are created with the help of the wholecomplex of production technologies, so museums turn to laboratories, workshops and contract manufacturing, which have a welding and painting workshop, a large-format printing department, a woodworking and milling workshop, as well as 3D printers and assembly lines. A team of integrators and distributors of equipment becomes an integral part of any project.

The MuseumTech market is growing every year, and the spectrumavailable solutions are constantly expanding due to the democratization of technology - for example, AI, augmented reality and 3D printing are becoming more accessible. There are also developments for the museum "back office", for example, programs for digitizing archives and 3D restoration of objects. The line between offline and online technologies is gradually blurring. Museums are also moving to new digital platforms: virtual tours or creative Instagram stories are no longer surprising. The next round of evolution is exhibitions in game universes. Gallery owners create interactive spaces in Fortnite, and major museums share their masterpieces with Animal Crossing users. And this is just the beginning of a new trend.

A key role in the formation of new museumproducts are not played by technologies, but by narrative practices - they also evolve and, thanks to innovative solutions, become more and more effective. It doesn't matter whether the museum constructs new worlds or reproduces the historical context, exhibition spaces are becoming more lively and interactive. All this allows you to immerse the visitor in a constructed context, and most importantly - to give him a new unique experience.

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