Location awareness in Museums

If you are a creative director, a curator, an innovator at a cultural organization, how do you envision harnessing technology, and specifically location awareness technologies to engage your audiences?De Young Museum, San Francisco, California USA

By cultural organization we refer to learning settings such as museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, historical sites, national parks, visitors attractions, botanical gardens and arboretums.  As Interactive’s Forrest Regan eloquently states, “. . . pretty much anywhere that has a story to tell and visitors to tell it to.”

Different audiences, variety of needs

Learning institutions share common objectives: engaging visitors through pleasurableMusical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, USA experiences that meet their interests and entice them to come back again and again.  For most of these organizations, the goal is to deliver social value by enabling learning opportunities and building audiences, particularly families, school groups and youth.

In response, many institutions strive to allocate their resources wisely to create environments that address visitors’ expectations.  But, what are these expectations?  An effective audience segmentation is key to answering this question, as is the deployment of information and infrastructure in support of a variety of needs.Museum of History, Cordoba, Argentina

For instance, from Dr. John H Folk’s study, visitors’ motivations may include personal curiosity, experiencing the venue and its surroundings, acquiring knowledge, performing research, or simply facilitating a cultural experience for friends and family, especially children.  Catering to such different needs is made possible through a blend of structured activities like curated tours, supporting the design of visitors’ personalized tours, and enabling structure-free experiences for contemplation or discovery.

The role of technology

Interpretive technologies can play a large role in helping visitors engage in greater depth, sparking a variety of experiences from closer appreciation to actively exploring and sharing.  The widespread use of mobile devices, either personal ones brought in, or rented at the venue, has further fueled change.  Audio tours and paper brochures give way to smartphone or tablet-based digital tours of varying sophistication and structure.Cleveland Museum of Art's Artlens

At the structured end of this spectrum, curators can plan interpretive guided tours and immersive journeys through their venues, blending digital technology with the exhibits.  If sharing is encouraged, visitors may share their experience using social media, choose from a variety of tours recommended by other visitors(often annotated), take part in audience surveys, and more.  For the unstructured experience, content search and discovery, wayfinding, and varying degrees of in-depth interaction are now possible.

Branded mobile apps, such as Cleveland Museum of Art’s Artlens, give learning institutions the ideal vehicle for connecting with their audiences. Most institutions have developed online content describing their collections, exhibitions, events, and research resources available.  They also highlight access to their facilities, including parking, shopping and dining.   Digitized materials housed in content management systems (CMS) can deliver curated content via multiple channels, supporting searches and exploration by audiences located anywhere.  At their venues, Wi-Fi has become the content delivery backbone that also provides access to search and social media.   The stage is set for a powerful delivery platform.

What about location-awareness?

Location awareness in interpretive technologies

There are numerous applications of location-based services at cultural institutions that enable mobile apps to deliver highly contextual information.  Here are some examples, grouped by category.



Wayfinding through a venue using turn-by-turn navigation instructions is the basic functionality. Cleveland Museum of Art's Artlens take-a-tourAccurate real-time device positioning within the venue is the starting point.

Giving users the ability to select a curated tour or build a personalized one requires telling users where they are and how to move along successive steps in their journey.

Discovery along any route requires letting visitors know accurately where they are and what is around them that could be of interest to them.

Location-aware content delivery

Location-based content  can be delivered as visitors stand in front of exhibits and views, Cleveland Museum of Art's Artlens - near-you-nowproviding highly relevant contextual information on demand.

Content delivery may be triggered by proximity or actual physical location, as the intended content may be different.  For instance, proximity-based content may be appropriate for a small vase on a pedestal, while location-based content may be most appropriate when approaching a locomotive at a railroad museum.  In the latter case, every section in the perimeter of the exhibit may deliver different content.

Blending augmented reality and location enables delivery of synthesized, Cleveland Museum of Art's Artlens - Augmented Reality location-dependent contextual information, such as pointers to available on-demand information about an exhibit, as CMA’s Artlens illustrates.  At the extreme end, picture, for instance, walking through a large room while viewing on your tablet information about a historical event that took place in that very space, content and perspective changing as you move around or rotate 360 degrees, like stepping into the scene.  Now, that’s an experience you won’t easily forget.


Participatory activities such as interactive games can draw audiences into deeper engagement and understanding of the material presented.  Complexity and sophistication may vary.

For example, high-tech treasure hunts can be very effective at deepening visitors’ engagement with the exhibits.  Mobile apps may deliver location-based clues as visitors move through the space, solving riddles, finding answers to questions, uncovering hidden clues, interacting with the works, possibly interacting with others while learning.

This form of guided exploration focusing on details may be particularly suitable in many cases, such as, when comparing techniques, colors and composition among artists of a given period across an exhibit, or analyzing and contrasting large fossil specimens at a natural history museum.

Visitor Services

A mobile app that delivers turn-by-turn navigation and wayfinding provides basic Cleveland Museum of Art's Artlens find-mevisitor comfort at sprawling venues.  The needs are many and well known: knowing where you are in a large complex is helpful; finding one’s way to the restaurant, the shop, the restrooms, the meeting point for the guided tour that starts in 15 minutes, where specific exhibits are, or where the elevator to the observation tower is located.  Last, but not least, can you find your way back to where you parked your car in the parking garage?

Solution: Accuware Indoors for Navigation can deliver positioning for mobile apps with 1-2 meters of accuracy, enabling navigation throughout multi-story venues.


Visitor flow analysis: measuring success

It is essential to measure the results of planning and investing in interpretive technologies.Heat Map  Did targeted audience members follow the designated path through the information delivered?  Where did visitors spend most of their time?  At what times during the day, week or month?  Which were the best attended exhibits, presentations, interactive activities and lectures?  Did high attendance at some exhibits correlate with any uptick in interest on any specific information?  How many people walked in, and then made a U-turn and left because of long-lines at the special exhibits, lack of docents to assist them, or other issues?Accuware Analytics - Unique visitors chart    What truly happened?

Solution: Accuware Wi-Fi Location Monitor can track in real time any active Wi-Fi device moving through a monitored area. Time-stamped data collected about visitors’ whereabouts can be used for detailed analysis of visitors’ movements, and turned into time-based heat maps that depict the ebbs and flows of crowds.

Staff tracking: where is everybody?

We know that it’s hard to manage what we can’t measure.User's locations on the dashboard  It may be important to know where staff members are throughout the day.  Are there personnel shortages at critical times during an event? Is everybody stretched too thin? Should there be additional personnel called in to assist at peak times? Are staff members available at all key posts throughout the day? Staff tracking can provide the raw information for informed decision making.

Solution: Either Accuware Wi-Fi Location Monitor used with Wi-Fi tags or Accuware Indoors for Tracking using Smart Tags provide the building blocks.

Behind the scenes

Accuware can make all these venues location-aware to enable the required functionality.  Here are products and services available to make it happen.

Accuware Wi-Fi Location Monitor is a real-time locating system (RTLS) designed to track the location of active Wi-Fi devices, including smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi tags and custom Wi-Fi devices anywhere inside a building or throughout a campus, with accuracy down to the floor and room level.

Accuware Indoors  for Navigation is a system designed for mobile apps to obtain their current position using ambient radio signals, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons such as iBeacons.  Both iOS and Android apps are supported.

Accuware Sentinel follows the movement of people through a venue using video cameras deployed in the monitored area. Sentinel identifies and tracks individuals’ locations by processing the video stream.

Accuware WiFi Location Monitor’s Proximity Engine functionality enables location-based actions, such as delivering media, triggered by the presence of registered Wi-Fi mobile devices at specific locations of interest.

Accuware WiFi Location Monitor’s Accuware Analytics functionality measures, logs and displays visitor traffic in real-time and historically over time by counting the number of active Wi-Fi devices nearby.

Accuware Wi-Fi Tags are used with Accuware Wi-Fi Location Monitor to track the whereabouts of personnel and valuable mobile assets.

Used singly, or in concert, these products and services enable cutting edge applications that deliver real value.

Accuware Wi-Fi Tracker (Indoor Triangulation System)

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