How far has the museum world come in thinking in terms of the ‘augmented museum’ (or ‘museum++’ to paraphrase William Mitchell’s Me++: The Cyborged Self and the Networked City, 2003)? To what extent are curators thinking about digitally augmenting the reality of material artefacts into ‘augmented artefacts’?

‘Augmentation’ of museum artefacts is not about making material artefacts available on the web (everybody seems to do that these days), or creating virtual museums — but to embed and enhance the physical artefact in a virtual environment (i.e., augmenting the artefact with virtual images rather than substituting the real by virtual).

I’ve been looking around for a while to find papers about the application of ‘computer-augmented reality’ — and have only found a hand-full of groups working along this track.

Ing Jörg Voskamp at the Frauenhofer Institute for Computer Graphics in Rostock, works on something he calls ‘virtual showcase’; it superimposes a virtual reality picture to a ‘real’ artefact in a showcase. The result was disturbing: a group of test persons reported that they actually preferred to look at the virtual showcase rather than at a traditionally displayed artefact (read more here).

Another group, in the Dept of Informatics at the University Sussex, are experimenting with virtually augmented artefacts. In a recent paper Fotis Liarokapis and Martin White report experiments where they superimpose missing parts of broken artefacts.

A wish list for the medical history museum of the near future: imagine a physical medical instrument (e.g., a lithoclast) in a showcase augmented by a virtual body image. A visitor standing at the showcase will be able to follow how the instrument in front of him/her is inserted into the urethra and the bladder. The lithoclast is physically real, but the body is virtual. Mixed virtual/real reality.

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