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From Slim Shady to The Natural History Museum - 5 ways AR is bringing experiences to life

As Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming cheaper and easier to create, the possibilities for visitor experiences, sponsorship opportunities and driving footfall, are huge. From visiting a museum to attending a pop concert, it’s the perfect way to deepen, enrich and make an experience truly immersive.

Bringing museums to life

Museums are invaluable resources. But with games like Fortnite and Minecraft enticing huge numbers of screen-fixated kids, they are not holding as much appeal as they used to. Imagine how much more engaging the trip would be if AR was available. How much easier and more fun would it be to absorb information if you could use your mobile or rent some AR glasses? You could wander around and instead of viewing something in a glass case, simply looking at it brings it to life - a skeleton starts moving, a bird flies towards you, real-life objects are overlaid with key facts and information.

This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ idea, it’s already happening. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. has a dinosaur-themed AR experience bringing these extinct creatures to life. They are recreating prehistoric situations and environments that inform and entertain by letting people experience them first-hand. Suddenly you’re walking the hall with dinosaurs á la Jurassic Park.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York has been making the most from AR becoming more accessible. Its ‘Defying Gravity: Women in Space’ introduces Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour to go into space, to visitors wearing HoloLens headsets. Magically materialising, she takes them on a tour of the Space Shuttle Enterprise - and through space history.

You can see how much more enjoyable and more memorable an experience would be if you had the opportunity to explore and learn with AR. In the 2018 Museums and Technology Survey and Report, nearly two-thirds of respondents wanted a mix of technology and hands-on interaction in future museum displays. And recent research in the US suggests that museums could grow their annual attendance by 100 million visits with new and updated exhibits featuring VR and AR.

Putting ‘AR’ into art galleries

I find visiting a gallery or exhibition far more accessible and engaging if there’s something on hand with information about what I’m viewing. Yes, an audio guide is helpful, but one using AR would bring a whole new dimension and level of understanding. With over 1.5 million mobile scans of nearly 5,000 original artworks, it’s certainly something that groundbreaking app Artivive is finding a huge appetite for.

The recent Flanders fields inspired ‘The Danger Tree’ exhibition by Raven and Marot in November was a case in point, combining art with AR for maximum impact. Visitors had a totally new level of art immersion; emotive poppy field oil paintings were combined with graphics, photographs, poetry and music to provide a moving, unforgettable multi-sensory experience.

Making concerts pop with AR

Many fans watch live performances through their phones whilst recording their favourite parts. So instead of artists fighting it, embracing this inevitability makes complete sense. The Black Eyed Peas tried AR on their recent tour; their app provided a short animation at the start of their three-hour concert and a suspended intergalactic pyramid at the end. But as a ticket holder, it left me wanting more.

In a world where developers can add dragons, fairies, whales or even mountain ranges to what you’re seeing, why not be more ambitious? Take a leaf out of Eminem’s book, or AR app in this case, and “get people deeper into the experience and more engaged in the experience if they’re going to be doing it [using their phones] anyway.” The geo-tagged, time-stamped concert AR experiences had giant meat cleavers slicing through crowds, a towering Eminem batting away helicopters and AR activations for the first six songs. Eminem’s Augmented AR app also gave fans an interactive 2018 tour poster and additional ‘AR anywhere’ branded experiences.

AR needs to be part of a broader strategy and add to the experience. It should whet appetites on the run-up to the show, provide something to do whilst waiting for it to start, and in the days afterwards be a reminder.

Barriers, no. Opportunities, yes.

Like any new technology, AR faces naysayers. One argument is that people won’t use AR because they haven’t heard of it and don’t know what it is. But let’s not forget that millions of people are using Pokemon Go, Snapchat and Instagram Stories every day. They’re already using AR without knowing what it’s called, but loving the fun of using it anyway.

Hardware difficulties are also cited as a barrier. Some headsets have been prone to overheating and batteries being drained but improvements are being made all the time. Current headset costs are also prohibitively high for many, although in a few years prices are likely to drop. But as Pokemon Go and Snapchat have demonstrated, AR is pretty accessible with just a smartphone and provides plenty of opportunities.

Renowned director and producer Peter Jackson is so excited by AR’s creative possibilities that he has recently developed a dedicated augmented reality studio. As he and other ambitious storytellers are starting to realise, AR should be part of any entertainment brand or experience strategy. It’s also a fantastic medium for sponsorship opportunities. The key is to start slowly and trial a few small projects; learning and exploring as you go.

Augmented Reality can bring context, creativity and interactivity. For museums, galleries, pop concerts and more it’s a fantastic opportunity. By overlaying what you see in front of you with interactive information and thrilling graphics your experience becomes one that’s truly magical and unforgettable - and one that will ensure relevancy in the future.

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