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Art in the palm of your hand

A new mobile app, designed by academics at the University of Surrey, will radically change the way visitors interact with museums and gallery spaces.

The app, which enhances the visitor experience through additional ‘augmented reality’ content, delivers a mixture of audio and visual materials to tablets and smartphones. Visitors will be able to receive additional information on identified paintings or social history objects in order to gain an insight into the archive behind them – including oral histories, film, photographs and maps.

The technology also recognises where visitors are as they move around an exhibition space, offering an innovative way for curators and owners of smaller galleries and exhibitions to track how visitors are interacting with the space.

Through research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the technology has been developed by Dr Helen Treharne, Dr Chris Culnane and Dr Matthew Casey from the Department of Computing at the University of Surrey, in conjunction with Dr Caroline Scarles from the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“The app brings together two increasingly important technologies: augmented reality and indoor localisation,” explained Dr Casey. “The innovation is how these two aspects are combined to provide relevant content to visitors while also helping galleries understand how their exhibits are viewed. The technology is also cost-effective, since it relies upon the visitors’ own mobile device with localisation achieved using existing or low-cost Wi-Fi routers within the gallery.”

Successful trials of the technology have been undertaken at two prestigious galleries in the Surrey area – The Lightbox in Woking and Watts Gallery in Compton, where the official launch of the project ‘Beyond the Visual: Augmented Reality in Spaces of Exhibition’ took place on Monday 9 September.

Following the success of the technology trials, the project team have been awarded funding to commercialise the app. The University – in partnership with Pervasive Intelligence Ltd. – will launch visit-ar.org in June 2014, with support from Watts Gallery, The Lightbox and Visit Surrey.

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