baby mammoth in AR

How the Natural History Museum of Utah adapted to the pandemic using AR in its education program

In an effort to adapt to the “new normal,” museums and heritage sites have had to seek out creative solutions; experimenting with and embracing new ways of connecting with their audience remotely.
In September 2020, the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) contacted GuidiGO to explore the use of immersive technology in its education program. The objective was to be able to “teleport” parts of their collections into the classroom.

When museums think about remote immersive experiences, Virtual Reality (VR) is usually the first technology that comes to mind. While we have created VR experiences in the past – such as an entire exhibition for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – VR did not seem to be the best fit in this instance. The education team’s brief included the following stipulations:

  • Immersive life-size experience
  • No application to download
  • Usable instantly by anyone on any mobile device
  • Compatible with computers and tablets
  • Photorealistic rendering

Three years ago we would have replied: “Sorry, this is not possible.” But Mobile AR has changed the game and is now able to tick all these boxes.

When iOS and Android adopted .USDZ and .GLB formats in 2018, it became possible for more than one billion devices to display an AR experience directly inside a mobile browser.

  • .GLB is a 3D file format that describes an object according to its surface, with meshes, materials and textures. .GLB is the bundled version of the .GLTF format which was established by the Khronos Group, and is supported by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Adobe.
  • .USDZ is another 3D file format developed by Pixar and Apple. It’s the only AR file format compatible with Apple devices.

Let’s put it this way, .USDZ and .GLB files are to AR what .PDF files are to documents. They display 3D objects, in AR in your mobile browser (Chrome or Safari), in 3D in your computer browser (similar to Sketchfab).

If you would like to see for yourself what mobile AR looks like, try the following:

  • On your mobile device, google one of these words: Tiger, Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Chauvet cave, or Tyrannosaurus.
  • Tap the “view in 3D” icon, next to the relevant thumbnail.

More AR search examples are available here.

10 exhibits in 3 weeks to be AR ready

The NHMU Education Department requested this AR functionality for the beginning of the school year. Museum staff had already scanned their exhibits in photogrammetry, including a selection of paleontological items, bird skulls, and artifacts of Native American culture.

The GuidiGO AR team used GuidiGO Studio and AR Composer platform to quickly optimize the mesh and textures for Android and iOS devices and make sure the quality of the 3D models was consistent especially in low light environments.

NHMU Paleontology 3D models

We are thrilled with the result. Check it out for yourself by displaying the baby mammoth skeleton in your room! We are even more excited to hear about the impact of our work after receiving this kind note from Tracey Collins, Interim Director of Education at NHMU:

NHMU was thrilled to partner with GuidiGO to deliver such innovative science education and immersive learning experiences to 25,000 students in Utah this school year. We have received great feedback so far and are looking for new ways, Museum-wide, to incorporate AR functionality into all of our virtual opportunities.

To learn more about GuidiGO AR, visit www.guidigo.com/AR

Other example by GuidiGO – Tap on the image below on your mobile to discover this famous masterpiece in AR, in real size:

Géricault - The Raft of the Medusa
Géricault – The Raft of the Medusa