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Museum of the future: mobile augmented reality

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Museums start to put interactive tools in everyone's hands, well beyond their four walls.

Museums serve to document the growth of arts and sciences of our society, and in recent years, have been able to reach across the miles to new audiences, thanks to the proliferation of the Internet.

A new report suggests that museums are also becoming part of the mobile revolution -- yes, if you want to visit the Museum of London without flying all the way to Heathrow Airport, there's an app for that. (However, it's best to be in town to really experience the service):

"The museum of London has launched an iPhone application which brings its extensive art and photographic collections alive in advance of the opening of spectacular new galleries next week. The free app, called "StreetMuseum," takes users to various sites in London where, via their iPhone screen, historical images of the city appear. Over 200 sites have been selected where users can look through their iPhones and see the past emerge."

Now you may ask why someone would be inclined to squint at images on a mobile device, versus using a standard laptop or desktop computer. The advantage of a handheld museum is that users could access photos and details of historic buildings or locations while they are physically at the subject of their curiosity. "Geotagging metadata in the images and GPS technology in the phone are mashed up to overlay the user's location with historic information about the same place," the report states.

What's really neat is you can superimpose older images over a current shot of a streetscape or building -- as shown in the photos on this page. The past really does come alive. These images can be viewed as ghostly alignments, or the archive images can be brought up and explored in detail, along with information about Streetmuseum’s photographs and paintings.

The Museum of London is showing some great innovation in expanding its knowledge beyond the walls of the actual museum itself.  As the report says, "Forward-thinking museums, libraries, archives, and universities will embrace placing interactive tools in the hands (literally) of everyone from history buffs to tourists walking through an unfamiliar city."

(Photo credits: The Museum of London)

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure