April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

From a Distance: Mobile Phones as Live Broadcasting Devices

Lois Lydens, National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan; Tomoyuki Ohashi, Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, Japan; and Makoto Manabe, National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan


Live broadcasting using a mobile phone is one of the newest ways we are applying technology at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan. A mobile phone can provide live broadcasting capabilities for museum galleries, school classrooms, community centers and even fossil sites. With the right kind of equipment; namely, an audio/video port on the phone, this type of broadcasting can be simple to set up, dynamic and spontaneous. Common concerns regarding resolution quality and phone charge expense are not onerous, compared to other modes of information delivery. The image is good enough to allow people to communicate clearly. Also, communication charges are a pittance compared to the cost of transporting a lecturer to a venue. Phone broadcasting is an opportunity for interactive activity that allows different groups to defy spatial constraints. We provide details on several recent telecommunication experiences with links in Japan and abroad.

Keywords: mobile phone technology, science museum, live broadcasting, distance learning, telecommunications, interactive technology

The Museum Community in Japan and Mobile Phones

We have moved far beyond using the mobile phone as a simple portable telephone. Mobile phones are regularly being updated to include new technologies (Markoff, 2007). We now feel comfortable sending short text messages and e-mails. Some of us (especially the younger demographic) use our phones to take, save, and send photos and video clips and surf the Net. Some new phones allow users to watch TV programs broadcast for ordinary television. The mobile phone has been gaining popularity recently as a platform for content delivery, whether as an audio guide, or a conduit to receive audio or video images from a phone feed or the Internet (Fushimi, 2006). Continual design innovations, economical pricing, and portability make it a device that has excited considerable interest among museum professionals. Similar to our experience in Japan, others are experimenting around the globe with these highly personalized portable tour guides at museums and outdoor attractions such as zoos, gardens, historical sites and cultural heritage sites (Bressling, 2006; Nickerson, 2005).

For the past four years, a research team at the National Museum of Nature and Science (formerly known as the National Science Museum) has been comparing different types of devices for their efficacy regarding content delivery and information retrieval. Overall, we have determined that the iPod works well as an audio guidance system because it offers the opportunity for free downloading, notification of new programs through RSS feeds, and the flexibility and creativity inherent in podcasting. Due to its user-friendliness and its wide screen, game machines like PlayStation PSP® or Nintendo DS® work well for content that requires a picture as well as audio guidance. Nintendo has a two-screen capability, increasing usability. Mobile phones have several advantages over iPods and game machines: namely, Quick Response code (QR code) readability, the capacity to send and receive photographs, the capacity to send a photograph with GPS location data, and live broadcasting capability.

Quick Response Code

In Japan, the QR code ( allows a mobile phone user to automatically read a URL address instead of typing in the URL address. It works in this manner. The visitor takes a photo of the QR code. The QR code has a URL embedded in it. By taking a photo of the QR code, the URL of the Web page is displayed on the phone screen. The visitor then selects the URL, and an image and/or a short video downloads to the mobile phone from a Web page.

As an example, images were sent from a laboratory and made available to the general public. During the exhibition Dino Expo 2005: Evolution from Birds to Dinosaurs, the National Museum of Nature and Science sent images that were downloadable to mobile phones. At the start of the exhibition, the museum began raising the kind of pigeons that formed, in part, Charles Darwin’s foundation for his theory of evolution. Scientists sent live broadcast images of the pigeons from the laboratory to exhibition monitors at the museum. Short video images or a still image were also made available for downloading to mobile phones via a QR code system. The bar code was printed and pasted on the wall of the exhibition. Visitors possessing a mobile phone equipped with a QR code reader could use this service.

Another use for the QR code is its record-keeping function. Organizers can track the number of hits to a Web site. In our trial, the short video was downloaded more than 6000 times in five months (Manabe and Lydens, in press).   

For a study designed to use mobile phones to connect cultural institutions, the National Museum of Nature and Science and Ueno Zoo worked together to create work- sheets viewable on mobile phones. These two institutions are located in the same large public park, and we wanted to create a natural connection for people, to give them an incentive to visit the museum and the zoo on the same day. The trial was called “Zoo-Mu Expeditions” (Arita-Kikutani and Sakamoto, in press). The worksheet encouraged people to make comparisons between the live animals at the zoo, such as our pandas, and a skeleton on display in the museum. A participant could look at the hand structure of the bones of the skeleton in the museum and then go to the zoo and see how the panda grasps a piece of bamboo while feeding. Participants could access the worksheets via their mobile phones through the use of the “pattobi” code ( the QR code.

Taking and Sending Photographs

In an imaginative use for mobile phones geared at the younger set, a media forum was created in cooperation with an NPO called e-kids ( The main purpose was to encourage children to record wildlife with their own digital camera. A ‘media camp’ familiarized children with nature and gave them tips on technology use. The resulting photographs of plants and animals taken by the children encouraged organizers to generate an Internet picture book of the photo collection.  This Internet picture book is a BioMap database collection. To participate, children take a photo of a plant or animal using their mobile phone and transmit the image, along with identifying information such as date, weather conditions, location, type of plant/wildlife, and any personal comments ( The image is added to a database which can then be used by others to search for a specific type of wildlife or the location of a certain plant.

Taking and Sending Photographs with a GPS reading

The Mt. Fuji Club in Japan is demonstrating the applicability of the mobile phone to a wide range of applications in Japan. This NPO uses GPS-equipped mobile phones to record and maintain the Garbage Map at Mount Fuji ( A volunteer takes a photograph of garbage on Mt. Fuji. The GPS-enabled camera phone automatically positions the location of the trash on a map. This information is gathered cumulatively to monitor the environmental condition of Mt. Fuji.

Using Mobile Phones for Live Broadcasting in Japan: Broadcasting Between the Museum, the Classroom, the Fossil Site, and Overseas

From the Museum to the Classroom

A dinosaur paleontologist from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo gave a series of five one-hour lectures to classrooms of primary schools and high schools in Ehime Prefecture, a rural agricultural and fishery area 900 km from Tokyo. Each broadcast consisted of a 30-minute lecture featuring the paleontologist and a 30-minute question-and-answer session. The National Museum of Nature and Science cooperated with the Ehime Prefectural Library Ehime Prefectural Library ( in Matsuyama to produce the broadcasts at the end 2005 and in early 2006.

The librarians ordinarily have ongoing outreach programs designed for children who live in isolated areas. The dinosaur lectures were a part of this outreach program. Librarians were sent out from the Ehime Prefectural Library to community centers and schools in small villages. They brought books on the dinosaur theme for the children. Some were read aloud to younger children. Reading books beforehand about the topic (several were written by the paleontologist from our team) helped the children to devise questions to ask during the question-and-answer session.

The lectures for the mobile broadcast series were broadcast from the galleries at the National Museum of Nature and Science. The paleontologist walked through different galleries in the museum as he delivered his lecture. He prepared a rough script in advance and did several camera tests in order to select suitable contents and settings for the broadcast. Phone connectivity was confirmed before the session. There were two cameras on the sending phone, and during the broadcast the paleontologist switched between showing his face and the museum displays he was talking about. During the phone call, the paleontologist’s image and the museum displays were projected via the receiving mobile phone to a screen or a television in the other location.

In order to enhance the live atmosphere, we sent a cast of the dinosaur specimen to the classroom in advance. The teachers/librarians could demonstrate the cast in the classroom and sometimes even pass around the cast to the students. In this way, the paleontologists and the students could look at virtually identical specimens, despite the distance separating the two parties. During the question-and-answer session, the children had the chance to satisfy their curiosity by asking questions directly to the paleontologist. Children expressed their enthusiasm for dinosaurs and their curiosity about the mysteries of evolution and extinction. Many children wanted to know about the paleontologist himself, asking questions about how he got interested in paleontology and what his job is like. There were always more questions asked than the paleontologist had time to answer within the allocated time. Thus, it was demonstrated that an expert can create a real-time experience in a special museum exhibition for children who live miles away from the exhibition.

From the Fossil Site to the Museum

Another trial involved making a broadcast from a dinosaur fossil site to a museum that is located a long distance away. In an orientation session, a paleontologist speaking from the fossil site in Ishikawa prefecture explained to the Chiba prefecture museum visitors how to prospect fossils ( At the conclusion of the broadcast session, visitors had the chance to try their hand at prospecting fossils from rocks that were shipped to Chiba for the purpose. This arrangement gives the visitor a hands-on experience in a museum, guided by a professional who is standing at a fossil site.

As a way to orient visitors to a fossil site before a visit, a museum in the southernmost island of Japan used a mobile phone broadcast to show visitors the fossil site ahead of time. This helped visitors know what to expect before they went to the site. The Kitakyushu Museum of Natural History and Human History found that this was an effective way to prepare visitors for their forthcoming trip to the fossil site (

Another trial involved a collaborative effort between a team at the National Museum of Nature and Science and a group of colleagues in a location outside of Japan. In February 2004, a team of National Museum of Nature and Science educators participated in a dinosaur fossil dig in southern Victoria, Australia. This program was organized by the Monash Science Center in Melbourne (

The team of Japanese educators gave a live report from Australia to museum visitors in the dinosaur gallery.

Five Reasons to Use Mobile Phones for Live Broadcasting

  1. The universal appeal of the device. Mobile phones are widely used worldwide. No special equipment is needed; the only requirement is that the sending phone must have a camera and the receiving phone needs to have a camera and an audiovisual outlet.
  2. The opportunity for interactive participation. Using a mobile phone enables everyone to participate. Parties on both ends of the phone line can, at various times, be the information provider or the information receiver.
  3. Freedom from a wireless network. Unlike computer webcams, broadcasting with a mobile phone allows the user to be free of the LAN area. Indeed, the broadcast can be conducted outdoors, as long as there is a phone connection. Another advantage is that the individual can move freely about while delivering a speech or lecture. He or she does not have to stand in front of a fixed camera or computer webcam.
  4. Cost effectiveness. Minimal equipment is required: a mobile phone, a cable, and a screen or a facsimile of a screen. The phone call is not likely to be expensive, either.
  5. The opportunity to view a live, real-time lecture. This is especially applicable when it is not possible for a lecturer to make a personal appearance. From our trials at the National Museum of Nature and Science, we learned that if specimens are used in both locations during the lecture, this can considerably improve the level of communication and the overall experience between participants in the two venues.


Now that we have used the mobile phone for live broadcasting, we can confidently say that there are many situations where it is appropriate to use this mode of information delivery. It does not have to be limited to the museum environment, either. Libraries and museums can, for example, coordinate a lecture from a paleontologist in a museum to children in a community center or a classroom. A librarian can be on hand to do a book talk and display books on dinosaurs to pique children's interest in the natural sciences. We will continue to encourage these collaborations among institutions. We are also planning to make a live broadcast available on the Internet in order to share the event with more locations and to record and archive the live broadcast programs.


The five live broadcasts to Ehime Prefecture were organized by Yae Yoshimi and Tomoko Higashi of Ehime Prefectural Library. The mobile phones and technical assistance were provided by NTT Docomo (Kengo Kaida, Hiroaki Takebayashi, Tomoyuki Sagae and Tsuyoshi Hironaga). This study was partly funded by a Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research (No. 14208019, 2002-2006) to Tohru Inoue (National Museum of Nature and Science) from Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, and also by a Grant-in-aid for Priority Areas (No. 15020273, 2003-2004) to Jiro Muramatsu (formerly National Museum of Nature and Science) from Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.


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Fushimi, K. et al (2006). “ An artwork communication system using mobile phones”. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (Eds). Museums and the Web 06 Proceedings. CD ROM. Archives & Museum Informatics, 2006.

Manabe, M. and L. Lydens (2007, in press). “Making connections: Using mobile phones as a museum tool”. Journal of Museum Education, 32 (1), 27-34.

Markoff, J. (2007). “IPhone: More an update than an invention”. International Herald Tribune, January 13-14, 2007.

Nickerson, M. (2005). “1-800-FOR-TOUR: Delivering automated audio information through patron’s cell phones”. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings. Archives & Museum Informatics. Last updated May 16, 2005. Consulted January 15, 2007.

Cite as:

Lydens, L., et al., From a Distance: Mobile Phones as Live Broadcasting Devices, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note