How MUSE becomes the first Science museum to launch a large-scale AR experience

A few days ago, I found myself in Trento, Italy for the launch of Go!Muse – an Augmented Reality app we designed for the MUSE museum. Founded only five years ago, the museum of natural history and sciences has been a haven of innovation from the start, featuring futuristic architecture and extremely original scenography – an ambitious mission that has already proven very successful. Each year, more than 500,000 visitors come to experience “Zero Gravity” as they walk around in the Big Void – a large space filled with animals and other objects suspended from wires throughout the six-story structure.

MUSE Big Void

With the addition of the full AR app, MUSE is offering visitors an experience that harmonizes perfectly with their innovative spirit – in total fluidity and transparency.

A Fascinating Content

The app has what it takes to please even the most directionally-challenged of us. The days of losing your way in exhibitions are over: with Go!Muse visitors can see their precise location on each of the six floors of the museum, and are guided in Augmented Reality toward the object of their interest.

As for the educational content, the app includes over one hundred AR hotspots that can be activated by the visitor to unlock multimedia content (text, videos and more) that provides additional context for the various attractions.

Last but not least, the app makes it possible to view realistic virtual portrayals of ten dinosaurs and a whale by adding life-size animated bodies to their skeletons in Augmented Reality, right in the middle of the museum.

An Emotional Experience

On the day of the launch, over one thousand visitors came with their families to check out the new app. It was the ideal opportunity to confirm that the app would be as magical as we had hoped. It was touching to see children, parents and grandparents equally surprised and enthralled by the illusion of a partially-digital reality. No matter their age, every visitor had the happy face of a child thrilled by an amusement park or magic show.

A Synergy of Multiple Talents

The obvious joy of the visitors made me proud of the work our team had accomplished. This project took no less than six months to complete and incorporated the work of at least a dozen individuals: an illustrator, a designer, a 3D animator, a game developer, front and back-end developers, a project lead and a program manager. The synergy of all these talents makes it clear that our field has changed. Cultural mediation is no longer about making a connection between historical and scientific facts, or simply coming up with a captivating narrative. It is also about creating an unforgettable emotional experience for every type of visitor.

To meet this objective, we collaborated with MUSE’s digital department. Fabio Manucci, the paleontologist of the museum, worked closely with Davide Bonadona, an illustrator celebrated for his work on dinosaurs, to create a scientifically accurate portrayal of each specimen.

From a scientific point of view, there is always a risk when you attempt to bring to life creatures that have been extinct for millions of years. But museums also have a responsibility to provide accurate representations of dinosaurs, in contrast to the fantastical portrayals in cinema and video games.

We then made it possible for these virtual animals to come to life inside the museum. Each 3D model was superimposed on its actual skeleton to within a centimeter of precision using GuidiGO AR Composer.

Seeing these dinosaurs in the flesh – and not just as bones – is impressive enough. But watching them move before your eyes makes the experience even more stunning. Since the skeletons themselves obviously remain static, we had to find a way to suspend disbelief when the animals are in motion. To do so, we added a Virtual Reality mode that hides the skeleton when the dinosaur begins to move.

A Large-Scale Experience

With the launch of Go!Muse, MUSE has become the first museum of Science in the world to offer an Augmented Reality experience at this scale, with ten animated dinosaurs and a whale as part of their permanent collection, and 80 AR-compatible tablets available to visitors.

MUSE official video trailer

While the app is designed for a wide range of users of all ages, it is sure to capture the imagination of young visitors most of all, due to their interest in novelties and interactivity.

Since they’ve been immersed in the digital world from birth, the younger generations are already used to learning and discovering outside of the traditional learning environments of libraries and museums. Touchscreens are already part of their daily lives. Virtual Reality headsets are soon to follow, and any museum planning for the future should be aware of that fact. It is essential for cultural institutions to pursue immersive, innovative technologies if they want to form lasting ties with the adults of tomorrow.

Experiences like this one will help young ones to discover the magic of museums and the joy of interacting with works of art and science along with other visitors.