Technology has, for a long time, been used to give context to the exhibits in museums, whether it be a video or sound bite. Virtual and augmented reality could be the next generation of that, especially in a time when many cultural institutions are looking to stay on-trend, technologically speaking. And the technology is becoming cheaper. In a time not too long ago, the idea of even having a few headsets would have been prohibitively expensive. Now however, with prices going down, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more and more places making the investment.
Guests will be invited to explore the exhibits, both physical and digital, in a whole new way. VR changes how we interact with data, so it is not surprise that this is how museums will likely implement it. But in a bid to ensure future relevancy there are other options as well. Some experiments have involved using VR to return broken artefacts to their former glory. With a headset, guests could not only enjoy what is currently in the museum, but damaged pieces which previously would have been unavailable for enjoyment. Or alternatively, one option is to flesh out skeletons of long-gone civilisations using augmented reality headsets, giving users a more in depth and less abstract experience of what ancient life may have been like.
Holographic tours with figures of historical importance, past and present, are another distinct probability. Producers of mixed reality capture technology expected it to be taken up mainly by the entertainment sector, rathe than cultural institutions. But it makes sense, if you are exploring ancient history, to have a guide from ancient history giving the tour. Mixed reality gives a museum the ability to extend the exhibit beyond the physical limitations of the building it is housed in, in a far richer and more immersive way than simply by showing a video.
Now this isn’t to say that museums can forgo physical exhibits entirely. Mixed reality works as a way of giving context to those physical objects context and enhancing the immersion of the experience. But it will never be able to replace the thrill of looking at a real object or artwork which has survived the passage of time. Nothing is as effective a window to the past. Augmented and virtual reality must work in tandem with tradition, rather than against it.