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Mexicolore contributors, students from the UNAM

Develop an interactive museum resource using Mexicolore!

In April 2012 we were approached by Javier Castañeda from Mexico City. A group of postgraduate engineering students at the country’s largest university, UNAM, tasked with having to design and create a project within the New Products Development part of their course, proposed to base theirs on museum visitor interactivity, studying visitor engagement and satisfaction with new technology. The focus? Aztec culture, and specifically the famous Sunstone, on display in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. After discovering the Mexicolore website, Javier asked if they could take our Interactive Sunstone Experience and use it as the key element in their project. We immediately said Yes... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Judgment Day!
Judgment Day! (Click on image to enlarge)

The three students - Eunice Mayela Arcadia Barrón, Javier Castañeda Tenango and Apolo Agustin Cuevas de la Cruz - thanked Mexicolore for ‘saving our lives and our project’, which later won them maximum points of 10/10. One of the academic assessors of their prototype, an assistant professor, was ‘amazed by the system; he mentioned that if he were the owner of a museum, without hesitation he would buy one of these devices. Note that, even being over 60, he had no trouble adjusting to this new technology.’ So what exactly had they created? They provided us with more details...

Testing new technologies
Testing new technologies (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The objective of [our] course is to understand the multidisciplinary nature of, and to see through from beginning to end, every stage in a new product’s development cycle.

Museum interactivity
’Today, museums use interactive technologies to enhance the experience and the satisfaction of the people who visit their facilities. For example, museums use entertainment technologies such as videogame consoles to deliver more information to visitors, and to create a sense of identity with the pieces on display.
The objective of this project is to provide a more satisfying experience to those attending museums, by introducing interactive interfaces that encourage a playful approach to the artefacts on display. Any solution proposed must be accessible to the museums.

Interactive tablet
Interactive tablet (Click on image to enlarge)

‘In the first months of the project, the team tried to tackle the problem of (lack of) interaction with visitors in museums by testing an electronic ‘tablet’ that visitors could carry with them through a museum gallery, providing them with additional information about specific pieces on display. Whilst subjects who tried the tablet were happy with it, it had several drawbacks:-
• it was heavy and at times got in the way
• visitors tended to pay more attention to the tablet than to the objects themselves!
• the level of interaction with the artefacts was limited
• if a tablet were to be broken, replacing it would be costly.

New technologies for museums
New technologies for museums (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The team began searching for alternative methods, and discovered evidence of games consoles being adapted for educational use. New technologies such as Microsoft’s Kinect appeared to be promising, employing high-tech cameras to allow manipulation by end-users of virtual objects. Perhaps Kinect could be programmed to carry out simpler tasks? The team discovered that Kinect could indeed be programmed to replace the use of the mouse, in favour of interactive applications. Without time spare to do their own programming of applications, the team searched on the internet for a simple interactive educational resource that they could work with and adapt to their needs: the Interactive Sunstone Experience within the Mexicolore website seemed ideal, offering information on the meanings of all the key parts of the Aztec Sunstone in a user-friendly interactive format.

Kinect virtual objects
Kinect virtual objects (Click on image to enlarge)

‘After programming Kinect to this end, the team tested the application out on a group of museum visitors, with good results. Users felt more ‘connected’ with the Sunstone and mentioned that they had learnt more by using the new application. In support of the prototype interactive system, the team programmed a website, set up specifically for interactive use via the Kinect software.

’So, in practice, this is the end result:-

• A visitor enters the Mexica (Aztec) Hall of the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City
• (S)he views the objects on display, referring as usual to the information panels on public view.

Scanning the QR code
Scanning the QR code (Click on image to enlarge)

• Her/his attention is drawn to one or two items in particular and, to learn more about them, (s)he uses a smart phone
• By scanning the QR code on the display card by the artefact (s)he accesses a free description of the object on her ‘phone
• (S)he can also access additional background information from the museum’s main displays
• (S)he proceeds to the Sunstone, one of the main attractions of the Mexica Hall.

Using the device on the Sunstone...
Using the device on the Sunstone... (Click on image to enlarge)

• (S)he wants to know more - and to view the Stone in greater detail
• (S)he approaches an interactive device placed about 5 metres from the Stone.
• Instead of having a static card or a touch screen that may distract her attention from the piece itself, (s)he’s able to view the piece through a transparent screen
• Additional information appears ‘on’ the original Sunstone - accessed interactively by moving her/his entire body (not just hands).

...and on a model of Tenochtitlan
...and on a model of Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

• (S)he can choose what to see via a menu screen, the contents of which are mostly multimedia. It has an interactive section and image gallery, allowing her/him to learn more about particular details of the object and to view these up close.
• (S)he proceeds around the rest of the museum wing, trying another interactive device relating to a model of an Aztec city
• Tired by all the walking (it’s a large wing!) but happy, (s)he sees as much as (s)he can of the other objects on view, and leaves for home.

Discovering more information back home
Discovering more information back home (Click on image to enlarge)

• But the visit doesn’t end there: via her/his home computer (s)he can view again the same information (s)he accessed at the museum, as well as finding additional resources, including games and trivia, not available in the museum itself
• By now the visitor has found the visit to have been more fun and interesting than expected, and recommends the museum to family and friends...’

The Aztec Sunstone at home in the Mexica Hall of the Museum
The Aztec Sunstone at home in the Mexica Hall of the Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Javier wrote to us later: ‘I want to thank you for helping us, your web site was really helpful and as a result, our project had a good ending. Our prototyte was outstanding, our teachers were impressed and when they take a look at the Interactive Sunstone, they just were wowed...’

All photos from and special thanks to Javier Castañeda.

Let’s hope they succeed in promoting their new interactive device to museums both in Mexico and abroad...

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 20th 2012

‘Interactive Sunstone Experience’

Learn much more about the Sunstone...

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