Augmented Reality allows for users to interact with the world through their mobile phone in an informative and playful manner. Through the screen they see reality from a different perspective. One of the most effective of these mobile applications was the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum. This application uses your GPS to locate you in space and shows you what used to be there through old paintings and photographs. This “window through time” also contains a wealth of information about the location and allows you to create trails and trips using a map. The application has received great reviews, and is totally free to download for either Andriod or iOS. However, the application only begins at the 1660’s with the Great Fire, and it relies solely on paintings and photographs. While the application is fascinating, it has less appeal to those of us (myself included) who prefer a more archaeological and material based interaction at earlier dates in history.
The newest project satisfies this need. Streetmuseum Londinium allows users to explore the Roman view of London based on archaeological finds from around the city. Unlike the original, this Roman version uses sound, video and imagery to let users interact with Roman sites throughout London. Users can watch video of various events in the locations they occurred in, and can follow guided tours to hit all of the hidden Roman locations throughout the city.
Most exciting for archaeologists is the excavation feature, where the user can ‘dig’ up an artifact on their phone and learn more about its history and purpose. The artifacts are located in the spaces that they were found and contain information regarding the item.
Sadly the app is currently only available for iOS, so Android users like me will have to wait to download it, but like its predecessor it will also be free.
The Museum of London’s Streetmuseum applications are a great model of what a museum can do to extend information beyond their walls, and capture a new generation. By directly overlaying history onto the present, they create an educational environment that is highly immersive and relates history directly to the present. Most importantly, the Londinium application shows the importance of archaeology in protecting and mitigating the past. By seeing what was uncovered beneath their feet, it directly shows the necessity for archaeological survey prior to construction.
The question is whether this is a brand new type of interaction, or simply a replacement for carrying around a Frommer’s guide. Both have information connected with space, and both allow users to learn more about the past of a location. What is unique about augmented reality is that the user doesn’t have to search for the location, it is automatic, and they can have access to a wider range of topics. For now, augmented reality may just be the equivalent of having a Kindle with every travel book programmed in, but in the future this could be a powerful tool for extending the museum beyond the walls of its building and creating a deeper connection between history and space.
Museum of London. Streetmuseum. http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Resources/app/you-are-here-app/index.html
Art Daily 2011. The Only was is Londinium, Roman London Revealed with Augmented Reality App. Art Daily. http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=11&int_new=49153