Augmented reality apps bring exhibitions to life

17 Jul, 2012

Dinosaurs may have been extinct for more than 65 million years, but a Canadian museum is using a new app to bring them back to life.

With an app called ROM Ultimate Dinosaurs, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto uses augmented reality, a virtual view of the real world that can be extended with graphics and other content.

When visitors point their smartphones at markers throughout the museum, the dinosaurs come to life in the app. iPads mounted in the museum and directed at the skeletons show the creatures more realistically, with flesh.


"We can see what they would have looked like with skin on when they were alive and how they would have moved and behaved," said Tracy Ruddell, assistant vice president of marketing for the museum, where the technology is on display as part of the "Ultimate Dinosaurs" exhibition.

"As a museum we're all about real-world objects," Ruddell said. "But being able to bring prehistoric dinosaurs back to life was a pretty amazing thing."

Around the world, museums and art galleries have been increasingly incorporating the technology, which can be accessed through mobile apps, into their exhibits.


"Augmented reality allows us to do things with objects that we could never do in the physical world because, of course, we still have to preserve the specimens," Ruddell said. "It also allows us to provide educational information, and really stories, about these objects that are difficult to do in traditional means."

After years of being relegated to the realm of science fiction, augmented reality is finally moving mainstream. ABI Research, a market intelligence company, projects that the industry will reach $3 billion in revenue by 2016, up from $21 million in 2010.

Artists have also have started to incorporate augmented reality into their works, seeing it as a new medium for expression.


At "Moment in Time," an art exhibit in Laguna Beach, California, people can point their iOS or Android device at an image, and an app called Aurasma stirs the picture into motion.

A photo of a woman under water, for example, morphs into a video showing her swimming away.

Rourk Gourley, one of the artists involved in the show, views augmented reality as an untapped medium.


"To me, it is as an art form -- the idea that these people can start walking off the painting, and that it can expand and move into the room and be three-dimensional," he said.

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Royal Ontario Museum runs until March. "Moment in Time" at the seven-degrees gallery runs through August 31.