Augmented reality breathes new life into ancient artifacts at DIA
DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts is offering visitors a new way to experience many of the museum’s significant works.
Using Google’s Tango technology, the DIA is now the first museum in the world to offer Lumin, a mobile tour using augmented reality that enables visitors to engage with life-size 3-D animations, information and directions. Smartphones equipped with the technology can be borrowed for free by museum visitors and used to find and view artworks that feature additional Lumin content, which varies by object but includes demonstrations of how the pieces looked when they were first created, or how they were used when they were made, for example.
Working with GuidiGO’s new augmented reality platform, AR Composer — which was built for Tango — the DIA’s interpretive team came up with content for multiple artworks. The goal is to continue to add pieces to the system, so that visitors can experience even more artworks in this fashion in the future.
“It’s … going to transform the visitor tour in the museum,” DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said. “The DIA is not only about the arts — it’s also about technology and innovation.”
Among the highlights are a digital reconstruction of the gates of ancient Babylon that visitors can walk through, and a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy whose skeletal remains can be seen using Lumin.
“This is very exciting for us,” said Jennifer Czajkowski, DIA vice president of learning and audience engagement.
She said the technology offers another way for visitors with connect with the artworks they’re seeing.
“It’s a tool about discovery and about using your imagination,” Czajkowski said. “This is how we can break down (barriers to art).”
The new technology can also help those with vision or hearing impairments “have a more full experience,” she said. In some instances, Lumin even allows the visitor to virtually take a work out of its glass case and handle it.
“The idea is that it’s a layered experience, and people can find all different ways of connecting with the exhibits,” Czajkowski said.
Augmented reality enables the DIA to show visitors how objects in its collection were once used in everyday life, explained DIA Interpretive Planner Megan DiRienzo. It enables them to “think about how the life of objects extends beyond our time and space,” she said.
The smartphones not only offer different perspectives and additional information about certain artworks, but they also lead visitors to other artworks in the collection that are outfitted with augmented reality.
GuidiGO CEO David Lerman said the goal of his company — as well as this project for the DIA — was “to connect people to the amazing culture around them.”
This will be replacing the audio tour, but Czajkowski said there would be audio tour stops available on the Lumin tour.
Although the number of phones the DIA has available for visitors to borrow is limited, Czajkowski said many more smartphone users will have Tango technology on their phones in the next 18 to 24 months, and they would be able to download a free app to take the Lumin tour with their own phones.
People will need to be inside the museum to take the tour.
“It really only works here in the building,” Czajkowski said of the augmented reality experience.
The new offering is meant to build upon the experience at the museum, not detract from it.
“Technology should not be a substitute to replace the work of art itself — it should be a bridge to better understand the works of art,” Salort-Pons said.
Google Senior Product Manager Justin Quimby echoed that sentiment.
“Technology should not be in the way,” he said.
Like the audio tour, Lumin is optional. Visitors can still stroll through the museum tech-free, if they choose. And the printed labels around the artworks are there to stay.
By roughly April, Czajkowski said, they hope to have about 10 stops available on the Lumin tour. It’s unlikely that every artwork will get the augmented reality treatment, though. Czajkowski estimated that not more than 15 percent of the items in the DIA’s collection would be added to this program.
For now, the Lumin tour is limited to the first floor, but she said they look forward to adding works on the second floor. Under consideration is including film footage of Diego Rivera painting his famous “Detroit Industry” murals inside the DIA. Czajkowski said what they’re able to add, and how much content they can include, depends on funding. DIA officials hope to use the technology in conjunction with special exhibitions as well, possibly by next year.
Because the technology is so new, DIA officials are seeking honest feedback about Lumin.
“We’re asking visitors to help us develop something that really works for them,” Czajkowski said.
The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Midtown. Regular admission is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. For hours or more information, visit www.dia.org.
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