Immersive Reality Brings Innovation To Museums

The Smithsonian Museum has established alliances with Intel and Linden Lab to bring its latest exhibition into the digital era.

In the digital world, physical interactions have taken a back seat. This is becoming true for one of the most important art centers in the world, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art(SAAM), where the art pieces have evolved to provide an unprecedented virtual experience.

The largest museum, education and research complex in the world, the SAAM, with its 19 museums and National Zoo, has taken taken advantage that the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Manexhibit is being set up in Renwick Gallery, to turn it into a virtual reality experience that will allow for a more accessible tour of the exhibition, and will make the iconic works of art more accessible and interactive through virtual reality.

Intel, a technological development company, together with Linden Lab, a company dedicated to the development of virtual reality platforms, teamed up to give shape and life to the project, after Sara Snyder, Director of External Affairs and Digital Strategy of SAAM, spoke with Raj Puran, Director of Business Development of Immersive Technology in Intel.

Through Sansar, Linden Lab's new platform for creating social virtual reality experiences, virtual reality is democratized as a creative medium, making it easier for people to live and exchange their own social virtual reality experiences.

¨This innovation was not easy to make. The works had to be digitized through a process of capturing images for subsequent vectorization. The spaces were adapted to enable a work area for developers in the same museum, and had to host thousands of other activities, to achieve the digital reconstruction of the exhibition," said Snyder.

The goal? To expand the reach of the Institution's collections to one billion people, in just five years. This means making the objects within the museums available to the public through a variety of media, including immersive domains such as virtual reality, Sansar's specialty, which also happens to be an important area of innovation for Intel.

The actualization of all this work, which facilitates more direct contact between the individual and virtual reality, is described by Marlon Quintero, in his book, Innovation for Media Content Creation. "Radical innovations can be global or local, depending on the context in which the content is disseminated for the first time (...) the origin of radical innovations determines the deployment of a product, determined by the world," he says.

In the case of SAAM, this radical innovation also drives education through immersive virtual reality for the first time, allowing users to physically immerse themselves in a 3D environment, and interact naturally with the virtual world, in the framework of live, realistic experiences.

Even though these are not traditional media being introduced, this whole new kind of technology could turn the museum into a new medium unto itself, thus generating even more innovative content, previously unheard of by users.

Many necessary innovative solutions came together to help SAAM with this new feat, bringing its latest exhibition to the digital environment. For example, expert use of specific software was necessary. But in truth, the main key feature that they used was immersive virtual reality. This type of reality is perhaps the most focused on entertainment (movies and videos). Through it, spectators can find themselves at the center of scenes or movies. In this case, its application to museums gives users the illusion of being immersed in a work, creating a context in which to enjoy the 360 degree platform, moving and seeing different images.

No Spectators encourages full participation. It's about being there, being fully present, and not just observing. Two of the ten principles of the Burning Man community, which match the very ideals of the exhibition, are radical participation and radical inclusion. “This means that there are no outsiders. Everyone is part of the experience," remarked Nora Atkinson, Crafts Curator at the Lloyd Herman Museum.

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