Art and robots – how digitalization can change a visit to museums

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In the latest findings from the Future Museum project, Fraunhofer IAO shows how digitalization and artificial intelligence can contribute to the visitor experience

The use of innovative technology and smart services can substantially enhance the museum experience, providing visitors with a new approach to art, history and knowledge. That’s the latest lesson from the Future Museum project, a joint initiative by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO and the company MUSEUM BOOSTER GmbH. But what does a digital museum experience actually involve?

In many cases, the coronavirus has forced museums to rethink strategy. This has substantially accelerated the shift towards digitalization. As Prof. Vanessa Borkmann, head of the research team for the Future Museum project at Fraunhofer IAO, explains: “Museums are very eager to provide their visitors with a meaningful and valuable experience. To do this, they need to forge a personal relationship with their visitors. This ensures that visitors have a great time, and it also helps create an emotional experience and establish a bond to the museum.”

AI and smart services attract and entertain visitors – and ensure they come back

The Smart Service Ecosystem of a Future Museum
Quelle: Eigene Darstellung

The Smart Service Ecosystem of a Future Museum

The latest research shows museums can no longer afford to provide a one-dimensional visitor experience. Instead, they need to focus on multimedia forms of communication, visitor participation and the transfer of knowledge as a learning experience. The use of technology such as artificial intelligence and smart services can play an important part in making the visitor experience as enjoyable as possible across all four phases of the visitor journey. This not only whets the appetite of first-time visitors and motivates others to return but also enables museums to raise their profile in competition with other tourist attractions. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a growth of interest in digital and contactless services.

Coherent environments for a perfect human-museum fit
Quelle: Eigene Darstellung

Coherent environments for a perfect human-museum fit

Particularly important is the communication in the pre-visit phase, when people decide to go to the museum. This is the ideal moment to begin incorporating the use of digital assistants – including robots – into visitor interactions. Ticketing and admission controls are two areas where digital systems can significantly enhance the comfort of the visitor experience as well as dovetail with other digital technology for the management of visitor flow. This includes a prediction of which offers and services will appeal to a visitor, based on their profile, and also the offer of in-app services such as tickets for public transit or restaurant reservations, either at the museum or elsewhere. In an ideal scenario, digital assistants will be used to complement the human workforce.

Best practice: 3D soundscape at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Concrete examples of the use of digital elements in exhibitions include an interactive sound installation at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. This helps capture the attention of younger visitors, in particular, who may otherwise have difficulty emotionally experiencing the memorial and empathizing with the events of the holocaust, on account of their temporal distance to this period of history. Based on their position within the open-air memorial – determined by means of GPS technology – visitors hear a variety of sounds via headphones. These combine to create an immersive 3D soundscape that changes with every step, thereby triggering the memory of further events within the countless stories.

A tour of a digitalized museum

Museums can incorporate digital elements in a variety of ways. These include virtual exhibition tours on the museum website, the use of augmented reality (AR) to superimpose additional information on certain exhibits, and the creation of intelligent touchpoints that are able to craft an individual museum experience based on a visitor’s intentions and the context of their visit. Each of these three options offers added value for both visitors and museums alike.

A visit to the museum begins before the building is entered and lasts after it has been left. It should be seen as a dynamic process that also includes preparation and follow-up phases, before and after the actual visit. The latest research from the Future Museum project highlights a whole range of practical examples that show how digital systems can be used to enhance the various phases of the visitor experience and thereby help museums to make it as personal and as enjoyable as possible.

“Museums should be seeking to use modern technology in a subtle way in order to improve their storytelling and thereby appeal to new types of visitors,” says Sofia Widmann, initiator of the Future Museum project and managing director of MUSEUM BOOSTER GmbH. “That’s the essence of our project – along with the desire to see as many innovative ideas as possible put into practice by our project partners.”