What do smartphones and velociraptors have in common? Answer: The Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
From the moment you drive through the main entrance of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and spot the trio of giant, prehistoric lizards grazing outside on “Dinosaur Plaza,” you know the place is special. And once you’re inside, any lingering thoughts of this being a “typical” natural history museum are put to rest when you walk into the three-plus story Great Hall, home to The Giants of the Mesozoic, one of which is an Argentinosaurus—the largest dinosaur ever classified.
What really brings the Fernbank Museum and its exhibits to life—more than what a static, printed map and guide could ever do—is the new context aware mobile app developed by Meridian. Stemming from the popularity of art museum audio tours, the app goes a step farther thanks to the museum’s robust Wi-Fi network. Earlier this year, we featured some fresh ideas used in Europe’s museums, so we thought this U.S. technology début deserved a look. We were not disappointed.
How It Works
Using technology developed by both Cisco and AT&T, the Fernbank app uses Wi-Fi access points to determine your location inside the museum and guide you—think navigation device, only you’re the blue dot on the map (not your car)—as well as feed your mobile device with additional content about the exhibit you are standing near or walking past.
One of the first content features we encountered on our visit was the Paleontologist Journal, which offers audio and video content, touch-screen interaction, animation, sketchbook activities and Q&A challenges. For example, while a user is standing by the Giganotosaurus exhibit, the app might ask her how many claws the dinosaur had and if she can draw those claws. It might then augment the information on the museum placard by explaining what the creature’s claws were used for. This feature alone makes the app perfect for children and teens visiting the museum.
Another cool feature is the app’s internal search function, which lets you search for important places throughout the museum—such as the Fernbank Café, vending machines, and of course the most searched keyword: restrooms.
Even if a visitor, say a parent, has downloaded the app but is not actively using it, there are ways the app can engage in a very unobtrusive manner. For instance, if you are checking e-mail, the app will leave a small electronic watermark at the bottom corner of the phone’s screen, which will take you to special offer for museum membership, a coupon for the museum store, or news about upcoming events such as IMAX movie premieres.
The app is available from Meridian but is most easily accessible from the iTunes Store. It will soon be available from Google Play.
Behind the Scenes
For the museum, the data-collection aspect of the app, thanks in part to Cisco’s Wi-Fi location data analytics platform, provides key data such as visitor traffic patterns and inquiries, allowing museum directors to strategically plan future exhibits and offerings.
In the near future, the Fernbank app will get an boost in accuracy, as Cisco plans to incorporate Qualcomm Izat technology into its Wi-Fi location platform, which will provide up to 10 times greater accuracy indoors and enable visitors to be informed of applications and services available from outside the museum.