Merging Realities in Space and Time: Towards a New Cyber-Physical Eco-Society

Merging Realities in Space and Time: Towards a New Cyber-Physical Eco-Society

Lyuba Alboul (Sheffield Hallam University, UK), Martin Beer (Sheffield Hallam University, UK) and Louis Nisiotis (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7879-6.ch007
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The rapid developments in online technology have provided young people with instant communication with each other and highly interactive and engaging visual game playing environments. The traditional ways of presenting museum and heritage assets no longer, therefore, hold their attention and provide them with an exciting and dynamic visitor experience. There is considerable interest in the use of augmented reality to allow visitors to explore worlds that are not immediately accessible to them and relating them to the real worlds around them. These are very effective in providing much needed contextual information, but appear rather static when compared with multi-player games environments where players interact with each other and robotic characters (non-player characters) in real time. By fusing these technologies, the authors postulate a new type of conceptually-led environment (cyber museum) that fuses real (physical), virtual worlds and cyber-social spaces into a single dynamic environment that provides a unique experience of exploring both worlds simultaneously.
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Custodians of historic, cultural and other important sites have had to develop new methods of engaging the current generation of visitors who are influenced by their exposure to modern technology such as social media and visual games. No longer is it sufficient to simply display artefacts in glass cabinets with typed tables or provide written guide books that describe the area visited. Visitors want a more dynamic experience that lets them feel that they are part of the key events that took place in the location, or which are associated with the objects that they are viewing.

One way to achieve this is to provide interpretation boards that describe the history and location. These are relatively easy to produce using modern printing technology and can be mounted in such a way as to withstand all but the worst excesses of the weather.

Early attempts were to provide audio guides, basically pre-recorded texts with suitable sound effects, pictures and videos which the visitor could play at specified locations as their visit progressed. Initially cassette tapes were used and later CDs or internal memory, which do not deteriorate in quality, and allow the stations to be visited in any order1. Whilst it is possible to provide customised tours for different types of visitor, these tours are essentially standard presentations with little automatic personalisation, based mainly on the order which visitors visit marked locations, and the sections of the pre-recorded material that the visitors decide to view. It is also common to provide different tours where appropriate, for children or other special groups. More recent developments are to use tablets and include more interactive navigation guidance to further enhance the information provided in the audio.

In recent years museums have developed new strategies to attract visitors and enhance their experience. This commenced when visitors started to expect similar facilities to those provided by the growing entertainment industry, including the reality TV, on-demand movies, the Internet and games. In order to avoid the negative financial and cultural implications of falling visitor numbers museums turned to these types of technology to attract visitors and retain them. One of the tools adopted by some museums is augmented reality, which re-creates a real-world environment where the sensory input is increased by the means of the computer (ARTutor, Lytridis. C and Tsinakos. A). It is different from virtual reality which is ‘invented’ reality. In augmented reality one sees what is really there, but the experience of seeing it is reinforced by adding additional personalised components to help better understand the places and displays that they are visiting (Young & Smith, 2016).

Similar techniques can be used to provide visitors to cultural spaces much more interactive and personalized experiences where they can interact with objects, characters and each other to better understand the meaning of the spaces that they are visiting. This may be to view them in a historical context, such as walking down a street in an archaeological site and seeing it as it was in its prime or taking part in a virtual procession by walking along its route as if one is part of the procession. This gives the visitor a much clearer impression of the importance of museum artefacts that due their fragility can only be displayed behind glass, in controlled environments. Similar systems are already in use to aid the understanding of future developments (Wang, Wang, Shou, & Xu, 2014).

This chapter discusses the development of cyber-social systems to provide a more engaging and information rich environment for visitors of all ages and interests to interact throughout their visit. It gives a brief outline of how information has been presented in the past and current developments, discusses the limitations of current methods in the context of three different scenarios:

  • 1.

    A museum specifically built to display the artefacts used in a Spanish religious procession.

  • 2.

    Providing information to visitors to a very popular beauty spot in the Peak District of Derbyshire which has a long and complicated geological and historical past that many visitors wish to explore to a greater or lesser degree.

  • 3.

    Understanding the terrific forces and terror as Pompeii was overcome by the eruption of 79AD and understanding the context of the finds discovered.

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