Recent innovations in exhibition content enable new ways to connect. For the smartphone-owning 81% of adults, there's no better time to be exploring the ways museums communicate information. By downloading an app, visitors can add a layer of data to the existing surroundings through Internet of Things (IoT) technology, connecting the physical and the virtual for the first time. The Internet of Things, an inter-networking of physical devices currently including smartphones, vehicles, and buildings, is growing exponentially, with experts predicting the introduction of 50 billion objects by 2020.
Earlier this year we installed a project for the Institute of Engineering and Technology, building an app that acts like a virtual guide around historic building Savoy Place in central London. Once downloaded, the app sits in the background of the smartphone and ‘wakes-up’ when it comes into contact with a beacon. The app reads the unique beacon it is nearest to, then talks to the cloud and pulls down the relevant content, displaying it back to the visitor instantly. The beacons themselves are tiny, battery powered devices, emitting signals from 1m to 20m and are placed around the building, giving visitors their own personal guide around the space and displays.
This simple use of IoT marks a breakthrough in how museums connect, for the first time able to display digital content and then react based on real-time visitor analytics. The museum can now know, for example, what the most popular beacon was (and therefore exhibit or location), how long the visitor spent there and where they went next, allowing the museum to understand physical location data in the same way as web analytics.
For a more personalised experience there’s an opportunity to use IoT both ways and enable exhibits to react to the users that they come into contact with. The capture of this information could enhance the guests experience even after visiting the museum. Knowing what drew your attention during the exhibit would mean the app could deliver a perfect further reading list. Crucially, all the data about what’s working, and what isn’t, is collected in the background and can form part of the procurement process when the space is updated.
Ultimately, the combination of a popular technology, visitors being motivated to download a genuinely useful and informative app and real-time analytics is a potential game changer for museums. For a relatively small investment they can connect, enhance, personalise and understand more about their visitors - at least 81% of them.