Augmented Reality: Should Every Museum Have It?

In an effort to grow and maintain visitor numbers, museums are often required to search for innovative and effective solutions to bridge the gap between their audience and the ideas they want to communicate. One key challenge that museums around the world are working to overcome is how to connect with younger audiences in a 'language' that they understand.

But is an augmented reality museum the ultimate solution to this global problem?

Augmented reality (AR) technology involves the blending of the virtual and real world: overlaying video, sound and other information over real objects and interacting with this information through a digital medium such as a smartphone.

When implemented effectively, AR in a museum can communicate history in a refreshing and unique way — especially to younger audiences that are familiar and comfortable with new technology. Not only can AR feel more personal than just watching a video, it also transforms the traditional, passive museum experience into an interactive one, aiming to spark curiosity and independent discovery.

Curators and museum educators can use AR as part of a digital storytelling experience to educate and entertain ("edutainment") visitors.

Increasingly more museums have turned to mobile solutions (such as a self-guided tour app) but should AR be part of the discussion too?

Not every museum will need augmented reality — in the same way that not every museum may need an art guide app. Ultimately, the potential of augmented reality depends on a museum's ability to implement and integrate the technology and most importantly, the content to be presented.

Some key questions to consider:

  • What would AR technology offer to your museum? Does it support your collections or is it the main attraction?

  • What kind of museum experience will it (or you hope to) create?

  • Will it encourage communication, different interpretations and new ways of thinking?

If your museum's budget allows for it, and the opportunity exists to utilise this new platform, then augmented reality could prove to be a worthwhile investment.

But just because you can, doesn't always mean you should. New technology is just a means to an end.