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How Audio Augmented Reality will Transform the Museum Experience

Audio tours at open air museums have had particular popularity, but is there a way to now take audio tours to a new dimension?

Audio Augmented Reality is a relatively new term. So what exactly is it? Let’s start with the category as a whole; Augmented Reality. In the most basic form, Augmented Reality is where digital elements overlap onto reality and integrate with objects in the user’s vicinity. As Augmented Reality is still being defined it is important to understand and develop the different areas of it, for example the visual side (video and graphics), the audio side and GPS data side. At AWE we believe very much in utilizing the audio side of Augmented Reality and we refer to this as Audio Augmented Reality. Being innovative and open allows us to explore this area and its adaptability in many different contexts for example; tourism, medical, location-based experiences, gaming, IOT and much more.

In this article we look at how Audio Augmented Reality has the ability to transform the museum environment.

Audio tours have had a predominant place in open air museums and cultural heritage sites, with exceptional popularity in the UK and the US. As technology evolves so does the evolution of the audio tour. So where exactly are we now, and what have we developed from?

Remember the days of the cassette tape audio tours, where you would stop and play the prerecorded audio? Whilst these worked (or at least the majority of the time), they required a lot of maintenance and work from the visitor; to stop the tape in the right place, to play, rewind, turn over the tape and so forth. This did not create the most immersive environment bringing only a linear and non-interactive experience, but it did successfully help the visitor to receive information.

So as smart devices have become more widespread, we can now use the sensors within this technology. For example, the GPS. In recent years location based audio tours have become popular, but this area is still under development. Similarly to the cassette style audio tours, we have still noticed a ‘press and play/activate audio’ style system, but is there a way to now take the audio tour to a new dimension?

That’s where we think Audio Augmented Reality has amazing power. By overlapping audio onto reality we can fully immerse the user in their environm

Audio Augmented Reality Prototype, AWE

Photo credit: Stephane Le Borne

ent. How is it so powerful? We are currently using a smart headset called Jabra’s Intelligent Headset. The headset features different sensors; Gyroscope (tracks what you are looking at), Accelerometer (detects your acceleration changes), and of course the GPS (for tracking location).   On top of this we are able to position sounds in a 3D environment so the

visitor understands the location the sound is coming from, for example in front, behind, to the left or to the right. By using all these features simultaneously, we are able to track where the visitor is walking and looking and create a 3D audioscape catered exactly to that individual’s experience. The power given to storytelling become so realistic that the visitor is fully immersed and believes they are part of the story.

So, why exactly is this better than the good old cassette player? Well, immersion plays a utmost vital role in user journey and the flow of the visitor experience. The vision of most museums we have spoken to say that their aim is to educate and inform people about their exhibition. And now it’s possible for the user to be a part of the experience in an active way, and not so much just listening in a passive manner.

The world is changing and so is technology and communication. It is vital as a museum to keep up with your visitors needs and demands. Audio Augmented Reality will transform the museum experience by immersing the visitor and having not only an educational experience but also a highly entertaining and memorable one.
We are always looking for exciting concepts and new ways to use audio, so if you have any ideas or wish to collaborate, then please feel free to leave a comment or email us.