Mobile applications have increasingly become a regular part of the outreach and engagement strategies of many cultural institutions. As smart phone use grows, some organizations have sought to go beyond typical mobile applications and integrate location-based and augmented reality technology as a way to further access to collections, create new methods for understanding and interpreting the items, and increase communication between the organizations and the communities they serve.
In Spring 2010, the City of Philadelphia Department of Records received an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant to investigate mobile augmented reality technology for use in displaying overlays of historic photographs on the current urban landscape. Users simply point the cameras on their smart phones at a location of interest and the historic photographs and selected data related to the site are automatically accessed right through the camera display. The project utilized the resources of PhillyHistory.org, a collaborative online database of historic photographs and maps from five Philadelphia area institutions, and the PhillyHistory.org smart phone web application, a location-based web app that provides access to the collections via iPhone and Android smart phones.
As a growing number of museums and humanities institutions from Philadelphia to London to Sydney are turning their attention to new technologies like augmented reality to revitalize interest in their collections, this paper will examine the state of mobile augmented reality technology and its current and possible applications for use within cultural institutions. Through an exploration and evaluation of the successes and challenges of the Department of Records’ augmented reality project, we will investigate how this technology can be applied to other archives and museums and whether such efforts have proven valuable as an engagement and outreach tool.
A presentation from Museums and the Web 2011 (MW2011).