Ask people on the street to describe their last visit to a museum, and you’ll likely get a slew of less-than-enthusiastic responses: old, stale and even boring.
The Museum of the Bible, which opens in Washington D.C. in November, hopes to change that perception by becoming — in the words of representatives — the most technologically advanced museum in the world. The goal: bring the Bible to life as guests learn about its history and impact.
The $500 million, 430,000-square-foot museum will house 12 theaters, 93 projectors, 250 computers and 384 monitors — not to mention 200 miles of low-voltage cables.
But the biggest advancement will greet visitors at the museum entrance. There, each guest will receive a computer tablet known as a “Digital Guide,” which will take advantage of 500 wireless access points throughout the museum to provide guests a one-of-a-kind tour experience based on their age and desires.
Jeff Schneider, vice president for information and interactive systems at the Museum of the Bible, said the vision for the Digital Guides came from the belief that the best museum experiences use live tour guides.
“We are trying to incorporate as much of a live tour guide experience as possible, paired with additional features that only technology can provide,” he said. “The resulting efforts create a new level of engagement and guest satisfaction that’s not easily achievable any other way.”
Visitors to the Museum of the Bible can listen to audio narration through headphones or read the full transcripts on screen.
The Digital Guides — which are included in the price of admission — can:
- Re-route a guest’s tour from a busy room to a less-occupied one.
- Adjust the tour when a guest deviates from the pre-planned tour.
- Accommodate those with physical disabilities or hearing and visual impairments.
If guests just want to “wing it” — that is, to walk through the museum without a pre-planned tour — the Digital Guides will allow that, too. But even then, the Digital Guides can track a guest’s location and provide relevant information.
Indoor navigation was a challenge. That’s because three prominent options — GPS, Wi-Fi positioning and Bluetooth — fall short. GPS is not effective indoors, and Wi-Fi positioning and Bluetooth are not as accurate as needed. The solution came in “ultra-wideband radio technology,” which is accurate to within six inches.
“When developing various features of the digital guide, we visited many museums,” Schneider said. “Besides the most obvious use — such as finding the nearest restroom — our experience revealed a need for families and small groups. As individual members of a family explore a museum at their own pace, it’s easy to get separated.”
The Digital Guides solve the separation problem by allowing parents and children always to find one another. An even bigger advancement might be the ability to keep children entertained while their parents stick in one room.
The Digital Guides have three age levels: adults and teens; 9–12; and 8 and under.
“The Digital Guide automatically adjusts the kids’ tour experience based on how long or brief the adult dwells within an area,” Schneider said. “This is quite an achievement given that both the adult and child are experiencing their own immersive tour experience, unique to themselves, even though they are in the same areas together.”
Digital Guides — and the next generation of such devices — may change how the public views museums.
“We believe the digital guide — the way we envision it — is one of the most effective ways of complementing the museum experience, providing new levels of engagement and interaction, as well as innovative solutions to meet guest needs,” Schneider said. “Just as paper maps have been replaced by GPS and Google Maps, so we believe the digital guide will disrupt the museum wayfinding and touring experience.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Michael Foust is an award-winning freelance writer and father of four children. He blogs at www.michaelfoust.com.
For more information, visit www.museumofthebible.org.