Augmented Reality in museums: 10 possible contributions to cultural tourism


27 May, 2014

Augmented Reality in museums: 10 possible contributions to cultural tourism

In the 60s, New Museology added the educational role to the museum field, transcending the aural character of the works on display and giving them a value beyond the purely ritual. Today, technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) are aligned with this feature and add entertainment; a formula that will attract the visitor who is thirsty for new knowledge and stimulation, and encourage him to stay longer in the exhibition.

AR offers a virtual space that is superimposed on the real image or integrated into it, giving the user a mixed reality through a screen. The user points to the object or place he wants to “augment” with the camera of his smart device, be it a mobile phone, tablet or the new Google Glass (an apparatus that will be ideal for this experience, involving what is real and virtual). This is a way of enriching our surroundings with “additives” or, as Francisco J. Seron says, of achieving “full interactivity in real time.”

Although this combination of realities can serve as an inspiration for art, today we focus on Augmented Reality as a tool in museums. We highlight 10 possible applications, some of them already experienced by institutions with greater resources:

  1. The most evocative and most obvious application is the reconstruction of ruined spaces. Imagine that standing on the ruins of the Roman theater in Mérida you could admire the work as a whole as it would have looked in the first century AD, or even witness a simulation of a classic representation of the same recreation on your own mobile phone. This symbiosis between past and present, virtual and real, is what best explains the difference in augmented reality and 3D technology.
  2. In the previous section, AR helps explain with an image what words would require more time and attention to detail, which also happens when it is used to provide context to a piece. For example, recreating the place where the artist created the work environment or simulating the surroundings where a particular archaeological piece was found.
  3. Mixed reality also allows you to mark different routes virtually, according to user needs, by superimposing a virtual guide on the actual floor without damaging the exhibition space.
  4. So far the main use of AR, both in the cultural sector and in other sectors, has been to add levels of knowledge and to increase dissemination opportunities. For example, it lets you overlay photos, videos, texts and other supplementary materials on the actual image, and connect a particular object with social media so that users can share it.
  5. Consistent with the gamification trend, one of the most popular applications of AR is to add animations to the actual image to bring the museum closer to new audiences. This promotion for Lego is inspirational: LEGO DIGITAL BOX – augmented reality kiosk system (YouTube).
  6. AR also works in reverse. Imagine an empty gallery in which you want to exhibit various works of art. Before deciding which works to display or their position, the collector could visualize the result virtually. In this sense, AR appears to be an excellent tool for art galleries.
  7. As can be seen from the fourth point, AR can also incorporate sound. While it is true that its main contribution is visual, it can add sounds to the actual image which are “silent” for all other visitors
  8. The combination of different visual and sound formulas could be a further step for accessibility. Care should be taken to ensure that these new technologies don’t become a new barrier for disabled people – alternatives should be offered, as the possibilities, as we have seen, are there.
  9. This technology also provides the opportunity to associate online sales and promotions to the different “augmentable” areas or objects, a marketing technique already used by other sectors.
  10. Finally, another option is to locate points of interest near a monument, a museum or a city center thanks to its geotagging services


Although AR applications for cultural tourism are varied, experts point to a number of problems, mainly the excessive cost of this type of technological development. Companies like the Finnish VTT Alvar are working to make it cheaper and have developed a system with which the customer can use AR without programming skills. AR advocates argue that these contents are easier and cheaper to modify and deploy, so that the range of activities and programs may be more dynamic.

What is beyond doubt is that AR offers a new possibility of attracting visitors to the physical space, to make them participate, to “experience the museum”; and that  the symbiosis between the real and the virtual presents a future which is being speculated on, with humor, in other fields. As an example, the following video: Sight – Amazing video showing a potential future of augmented reality (YouTube).