Augmented Reality – What reality can we learn from it?
In June 2011, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) launched an integrated iPhone app – the world’s first museum app to combine augmented reality (AR), location-based gaming, and interactive features – in its special exhibition, Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor and His Legacy. Specially designed to complement the flows and content of the exhibition, the main storyline uses seven interactive chapters, each highlighting at least one object on display, to engage visitors on a more personal level. As they progress through the exhibition, visitors respond to image markers that launch augmented reality and gaming experiences that breathe life into the objects.
The Terracotta Warriors app became one of the top 5 downloaded iPad apps for June 2011. Visitors generally responded enthusiastically, and the app garnered much positive publicity from both local and international media. Our overall experience was positive, but there were problems and challenges along the way that inspired us to reflect. When museums turn to interactive technologies in pursuit of new ways of engaging new audiences, where do we draw the line to avoid turning the museum into a theme park? How can we most effectively get everyone up to speed with the latest technology? As the museum works to engage younger visitors with appealing technologies, do we risk distracting them from meaningful engagement with real objects?
We conceived of this app as a pilot exercise that would give us an opportunity to study the adoption of technology by our visitors. The integration of several interactive features in the app also allowed us look at behaviour and interactions of users. This paper surveys the effectiveness of this implementation, explores the wider issues raised by the findings, and relates lessons learned from unforeseen challenges along the way.