August 2013

Drone Experiences

An emerging technology that feels like it has the potential to offer some interesting experiences for specific installations is the drone. One example of the capabilities of these devices is this home movie of Niagara Falls created by a drone owner.





Some opportunities we in the museum field might explore with drones include giving visitors access to places they can’t physically explore and providing rare or inaccessible viewpoints. Just last week, while we were in the Pacific Northwest, the Woodland Park Zoo staff (avid readers of this blog) sent us an invitation to discuss their philosophy and approach to interpretation. The Zoo has award-winning experiences within large natural environments that mix species as they would be mixed in their natural ecosystems. The downside of this approach is that, at times, the animals are far away from the visitors.  One of the ideas we brainstormed involved drones: Imagine letting visitors fly a drone out to find animals and observe them from a distance.

In addition to their function as remote viewers, drones also offer interesting insights into robotics, and they can provide excellent maker/tinkering opportunities. They offer a way for mobile device and their cameras to be used. Finally, they also provide a timely, relevant, and accessible experience through which to spark discussions about societal issues of technology, privacy, and information access.

Drones seem to be a ripe technology and medium for experience prototyping and designs.

We would love to hear your ideas about how drones might be used. Share your thoughts here.

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the coming interactive surface revolution

With its capacity to detect a user’s movements, the Microsoft Kinect system stands ready to change how the museum and themed entertainment field might consider where an interactive experience occurs and what the interactive medium might be. As shown recently here in our blog over two months ago, water can serve as an interface location. In fact, recently this same story again surfaced across the web – for example here and here.

Certainly, the next step is developing more sophisticated augmented reality experiences based on this ability. While the water example shows some rudimentary possibilities, an application (came out last year) that certainly could have potential impacts – educationally and otherwise – is shown here. In this one sand is sand to as our medium and simulate water and water flow.


A further refined version is being worked on or is finished through the work Oliver Kreylos of UC, Davis, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (at UC, Davis), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (at UC, Berkeley) for ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vermont. Here is video of that piece.



Thinking back on past projects where we wanted to create a physical interactive six or seven years ago about watersheds and drainage, had this been around, we might have jumped on it.

But this technology, along with things such as our posting two weeks ago on motion tracking systems and cameras/projection, means that as we think about exhibitions, there is a vast opportunity to add an additional digital dimension if necessary. This applies even to some our most tried-and-true interactive examples.

Take a gravity well. When we will see the first one where, as the ball travels down the well, the acceleration figures, the projected path, or force vectors are projected on the surface of the gravity well itself?  How about projection on an erosion table? The list of possibilities is endless. Additionally, all of this digital information can be saved, taken home, shared on personal devices, and distributed through the cloud. We are just beginning to explore how this could change the ways physical interactives can link together with our lives outside of the walls of a museum.

But there are dangers, and at times we don’t want this extra layer.  It might detract from the innate beauty, simplicity, or emotional and learning impacts of the physical interactive.

The key will be figuring out when to add this ability and when to leave the physical reality of a phenomenon alone.

We here at the studio can already imagine the debates and conversations that will erupt as we move forward with these evolving abilities. Those are going to be some good conversations around the conference bar! Meanwhile until then we remain on the lookout for new examples. Do you know of any? What do you think of the coming revolution?

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time piece

Sundials are one of the most popular features that museums place outside. They demonstrate astronomical concepts and at times are used to convey anthropological or archeological content as well.  That said, the idea of using shadows to tell time is elegant.

An artist that has taken this to a new level is Conrad Shawcross’ with his new work, Time Piece,  an amazing time installation.






Using the mechanism, lighting, a gnomon which is about thirteen feet high, and the architecture of the London Roundhouse (a steam engine repair shed turned into a cultural venue) the piece is an operating clock.

Not only is this a beautiful piece but the programming the Roundhouse is putting on in conjunction with the piece is compelling as well.

Here is just one artist and their previous performance for another piece:

Wayne McGregor | Random Dance

Sun 11 & Sun 25 Aug, 2pm-5pm / Pay What You Like
Performed interventions from acclaimed choreographer Wayne McGregor will juxtapose dancers with the installation.

Shawcross’ piece and the Roundhouse points out several things that many institutions might think about. Whether it be sun dials or Foucault pendulums there has always been an interest in presenting the passage of time.

What is clear that imaginative approaches to portraying time will always be fascinating.

Certainly this piece really raises the bar.

In addition, other museums might want to explore the concept of programming around a timepiece. Such programming could allow science museums and similar informal learning environments, which commonly have timepiece devices, to expand how they integrate art/culture content into their offerings. In fact, this simple idea is applicable to many other “signature” pieces – not just time pieces.

What great time pieces have you seen? What kinds of programming have you experienced that expanded on a signature installation? How else does this piece inspire you?



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Follow the Ball

In previous posts we mentioned how changing one’s viewpoint can offer new opportunities for experiences in an exhibition. A new technology just crossed our desks here at the studio, and we think it’s pretty amazing.

Here is the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System.



This is work being done by the  University of Tokyo at the Ishikawa Oku Lab

The way the tracking systems follows a moving object has sparked our thoughts about how such a system might be applied to a wide variety of science center experiences. It would be interesting, for example, to combine this system with a gravity well and observe the arrival of the hole rather that the ball. Also, one could launch several balls into a well and track each independently by projecting a unique number on each. We could advance that even further by projecting the speed of the ball directly on the ball itself as it accelerates toward the hole.

A similar concept could be used in a Rhodes Ball Machine – but one in which you get to project your face on a ball as it moves through the machine. That’s just one way to personalize this type of experience. Of course, this technology could be used for many sports exhibits, too – like following a pitcher’s curve ball or tracking a golf ball trajectory.

Let your imagination run wild. How else might this be applied in the museum field?

What about outside the museum field? How could you imagine using this technology in other ways?

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