Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James experiences the immersive technologies supported through the Audience of the Future programme.

Pioneering collaboration will reimagine the future of museum visitor experiences

Experts from the University of Exeter are working with leading organisations from the fields of culture, entertainment and education as part of a pioneering collaboration which aims to reimagine the museum visitor experience using storytelling and cutting-edge virtual technology.

The newly created consortium, which is being majority funded by a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will create immersive experiences in which exhibits come to life, allowing visitors to have exciting, interactive encounters with, for example, robots or dinosaurs.

Those working on the project will use the latest mixed reality technology to create two separate adventure game visitor experiences exploring multi-sensory and truly interactive worlds. In the iconic rooms of the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, visitors will play the role of detectives and meet and interact with a cast of digital characters, from androids and artificial intelligences to velociraptors and fossils.

At the Science Museum Group, visitors will encounter a mixed-reality detective experience featuring high-resolution 3D scans of robots and other iconic objects from its collection, to bring the latest in robotics and artificial intelligence to life. At the Natural History Museum, awe-inspiring dinosaurs from their collection will be brought to life and visitors will experience the detective work of palaeontologists and share the thrill of scientific discovery.

Both worlds will mix real-life physical environments where visitors can touch, smell and hear things alongside magical digital technologies and characters that will enable audiences to interact in ways not normally possible. It is expected that the visitor experiences will open to the public in the middle of 2020.

The project will be supported at all stages by a multi-disciplinary research team from the University of Exeter Business School’s Centre for Simulation, Analytics and Modelling, and the College of Humanities Centre for Intermedia and Creative Technology, who will analyse the impact of the work on audiences. Their research aims to generate a deep understanding of how individual and group visitor experiences in mixed reality can be designed, evaluated and described to benefit the creative industries sector.

The world-class project team will also include some of the UK’s leading theatre directors, computer game designers and developers, 3D audio, multi-sensory technologists, animators, graphic designers, writers, actors, artists and researchers collaborating with museum curators and academics.

Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter said: “This project represents the frontier of global research and design in future audience engagement. It also symbolises the productive and innovative relationships being developed between the creative industries and the UK research sector. We are very excited to be a part of it!”

The project aims to better understand how cultural experiences can be reimagined for audiences of the future in order to boost understanding and enjoyment of the natural world and science, while at the same time providing commercial touring and export opportunities for immersive digital content. These experiences will help the interpretation of collections that address complex themes and ideas, helping shape the UK and global cultural heritage sector for the 21st century.

The consortium is being led by creative content studio Factory 42 and includes the Almeida Theatre Company, Natural History Museum, Science Museum Group, Sky, Magic Leap, Intu and Pearson Education. The two-year development project is being funded by a £4 million grant from UKRI and is match funded by £1.7M private investment, as part of the wider Audiences of the Future initiative to maintain the leading position of the UK’s cultural sector as the most ground-breaking in the world.

Date: 10 January 2019

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