The use of virtual reality in museums

DreamPort Blog
April, 04, 2020
Today we have already witnessed that technology has changed the face of modern museums. Take a look at the network of parks «Russia — my history», which has already opened in 21 cities in Russia. All the exhibition complexes are literally packed with projectors and touch tables, and in the content (read the Museum’s expositions) they actively use animation, video infographics and digital reconstructions.

Virtual and augmented reality are not used there — not yet. We have no doubt that these technologies will take root well in Museum complexes.

The emergence of virtual reality in museums

In 2016, HTC first introduced its first, relatively affordable virtual reality glasses, the HTC VIVE. Following this, the first foreign museums began to try to use VR technologies in their expositions. This was the year when virtual and augmented reality began to become widespread, supported by technology companies, the media and ordinary users, because even people far from technology could not miss Pokemon Go, released in the same year.
Many called 2016 the «Year of virtual reality».

Project of the Museum of the Central Railway Transport Museum of the Russian Federation in virtual reality.

In Russia, the general trend, as usual, is somewhat late, but in 2017 we received the first order for a virtual and  augmented reality project for the Central Museum of Railway Transport of Russia. And in 2018, specialists in VR technologies from DreamPort began to be invited to  specialized events to get expert opinion first-hand.

The potential of using VR in museums

Museums strive to bring collections to life, and virtual and augmented reality have become a great tool for this. VR offers a completely new user experience — complete immersion of the visitor in the exhibition. Many museums around the world are already using its potential.

Project of the Museum of the Central Railway Transport Museum of the Russian Federation in augmented reality.

In our opinion, most museums start with expositions made on the basis of photo 360, using the google street view engine, a technology that we are all familiar with. Others go further and use 360 video for their Museum halls, but this technology only brings us closer to «real VR». The full potential of VR in museums is revealed when the entire Museum hall is digitized down to each object. At the same time, the user is inside the exhibition and can interact with each object, view it from all sides.

Problems of implementing VR in museums

It is clear that virtual reality has great potential for improving Museum displays. It allows you to show exhibits alive and change the usual point of view of the visitor, changing the perspective of perception to a real first-person view. However, like any new technology, it brings its own challenges.

One of the biggest barriers to VR penetration in museums is cost. VR equipment itself is relatively expensive, and the development of VR content is not cheap. The cost of Software development can increase significantly, depending on the size of the project.

In Russia, museums do not have their own funds to develop and purchase high-quality VR content, and such projects can be funded by a large business that oversees a particular Museum or a well-functioning grant system.

In addition, the reliability of the equipment can be a potential problem, as with any other complex electronic equipment VR helmets can break, especially if handled carelessly. Here it is important for museums to choose equipment with a long warranty period and high-quality and prompt service.
Hygiene is another issue worth mentioning. Headsets can be used by multiple people during the day and this can be a potential problem. Many museums have solved this problem by using disposable helmet pads and employees who periodically clean and disinfect the equipment between uses.
All these problems are mainly concerned about the museums themselves, while users are concerned about the symptoms of the so-called simulation disease. Some users may experience unpleasant sensations or even nausea. This is due to the difference between your physical perception and the virtual world that the user is immersed in. Although according to research, the symptoms of simulation illness are significantly reduced by reducing the duration of the session.

The future of virtual reality in museums?

Despite all these problems, virtual museums will be actively developed, because they make modern museums more accessible. For example, they can help people with disabilities enjoy exhibitions from the comfort of their own homes.

Some museums worry that virtual reality can reduce the traffic of real visitors. We are sure that this is not the case.

Virtual reality will not be able to replace existing museums, but only expand and diversify the interaction of visitors with existing expositions.

In addition, most museums have huge storerooms where exhibits are put on temporary display on special occasions. Items from these storerooms can get their well-deserved, permanent display in the virtual space and be open around the clock to anyone.