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Augmented reality app puts museum tour guide in your pocket

Experiencing augmented reality at the Art Museum of South Texas are Karol Stewart, the museum’s coordinator of community services, and Dr. David Squires, assistant professor in the Master of Science Program in ID

Point your phone or tablet at a photograph in the “Digital Darkroom” exhibit at the Art Museum of South Texas, and it could launch an interactive audio tour that records for playback later. Made possible by a new app that can be downloaded to any iOS device, the program will soon expand to other exhibits in the museum with features designed to bring art alive in new and exciting ways, said Karol Stewart, the museum’s coordinator of community services.

“It’s like having a tour guide in your hand,” Stewart said. “IDET ARTS has the potential to adapt a static canvas into a lively object and rich learning tool.”

IDET stands for Instructional Design and Educational Technology. ARTS represents Augmented Reality Transmedia Storytelling. It was created by Dr. David Squires, assistant professor in the Master of Science Program in IDET at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“The benefits of AR technology are that it can increase interest and participation for museum visitors of all ages,” Squires said. “You are able to talk through the museum and get a different perspective. You can see the artist’s perspective. You see a whole new reality.”

Squires also sees a whole new marketing opportunity as well. His vision for the future includes partnering with local businesses to offer incentives for collecting “badges” during museum visits, much like collecting Pokemon with a Pokemon Go app. Incentives could include prizes, coupons or discounts.

“You can do it like a scavenger hunt,” he explained. “We did that during Night at the Museum. We had a haunted house scavenger hunt.”

With a few tweaks to the app’s content, the “Digital Darkroom” exhibit took on a new feel for Halloween.

“You’re pointing at the same work of art but getting a different experience,” he said.

“Digital Darkroom” is a 10-piece exhibit from the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. It includes works from 17 artists exploring the intersection of art and technology, a fitting exhibit on which to test IDET ARTS.

As the art museum’s website explains: “The artists and the way they use these techniques are representative of a new generation that is changing the way we view the world around us.”

The same can now be said of a new generation of art lover, especially as the concept expands into other realms.

“This current version is just the beginning of the IDET ARTS app,” Stewart said. “In the future, the app will create even more immersive user experiences to include, video, animations and other techniques to make a visit to the Art Museum extraordinary.”

In another peek at the future, Squires talks of building a citywide IDET ARTS platform that would become part of developing science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) in ways that will engage the public. This would include local parks and Head Start programs.

The beauty of the app is it can be used anywhere. The only time it requires the internet is when it is downloaded. All the information downloads with the app and goes with you wherever you take it. Squires actually got the idea for the application in the middle of a cornfield in Georgia, his home state.

Because the information is fully contained in the app and not dependent on internet speeds, it operates quickly, providing the user with what Squires calls “just-in-time learning.”

“It means getting content you need rapidly,” he explained. “Google provides just-in-time learning, and that’s what AR does. You open an app and point it at something.”

Uses go beyond museums to marketing and sales. An app has been developed for IKEA that allows you to point your phone at an instruction brochure for a piece of furniture and get 3-D videos of how to put it together.

The biggest advantage of AR to society, however, will always be in the field of education, Squires said.

“The more we integrate it into online learning and classrooms, the more we’ll see the impact on learning,” he said. “A classic example is in biology.”

Instead of a microscope and a lab full of expensive equipment, students will be able to point their phone at a textbook and create a 3-D lab experience — without the headgear or computer glasses needed for virtual reality.

“This is something we all have in our pockets,” Squires said. “Why don’t we use it for instructions? We should be thinking about ways to meet students where they are. They are already mobile. This next wave of students will be even more mobile. They want it instantly, and AR can give it to them.”

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