Happy National Inventors’ Day!

February 11, 2014
Illustration: Zak Jensen.

In the Digital Infrastructure and Emerging Technology (DIET) department, our staff is keeping up with trends and how they might be applied to the museum experience. For National Inventors’ Day, a celebration of innovation, we asked our Technology Support Specialist Ian Callahan, “What technologies are you paying attention to lately?” Below Ian tells us about a new tool he’s currently experimenting with that could reshape how we navigate art museums.

I like to keep a digital notebook of things that I find interesting, inspiring, or informative. So when I visit a museum, my smart phone is frequently out as I busily take photographs or tap out notes to create records for the things that I like. “Proximity beacons” are a technological innovation that promise a future where I spend less time trying to get information into my phone and more time engaging directly with art objects.

Using a low-energy version of the familiar Bluetooth standard, proximity beacons are small devices that have one purpose: they broadcast their presence to any compatible phone or tablet that is nearby. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for use in cultural institutions. For instance, if beacons are placed near art objects in a gallery, an app on your phone can tell you which objects you’re closest to and access detailed information about them. Imagine being able to save label information and high-quality images of art without taking your phone out of your pocket. Or using your device to go on a custom tour of sculptures from Italy, where you’ll be studying abroad next semester. These are some of the things that we’re exploring as we experiment with beacons and think about the apps we can build for them to enhance the museum-going experience.