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VAMR in Education and Cultural Heritage

Touching the Past: Haptic Augmented Reality for Museum Artefacts

Abstract. In this paper we propose a novel interaction technique that creates the illusion of tactile exploration of museum artefacts which are otherwise impossible to touch. The technique meets the contextual necessity, often requested by museum curators, to background technology and to direct the focus of the museum visitors experience to the artefact itself. Our approach relies on the combination of haptic interaction and the adaptation of a well-known illusion that enables museum visitors to make sense of the actual physical non-touchable artefact in an embodied way, using their sensory and motor skills. We call this technique Haptic Augmented Reality.

Keywords: Museum, haptics, touch, authenticity, haptic augmented reality.

1 Introduction

Touch is part of a larger complex of senses which interrelates mental and bodily processes, the haptic sense. Haptic exploration is a fundamental experience that assists people in perceiving and making sense of the physical world around them. The sensory information of the museum exhibits, particularly surface texture and material, is particularly important for museum visitors since the artefacts themselves are the center of the social, educative and entertaining experience of a museum visit. Whilst the value of touch experiences can be debated there is a growing literature on sensory engagement in museums which seeks to redress the imbalance which has traditionally allowed the visual sense to dominate [10] [14].

The emphasis on touch experiences in heritage settings and museums has emerged as a distinctive trend from this exploration [6] [24] alongside discussions of sensory perceptions of materiality as social constructs within both past societies and our own with the two not necessarily coinciding [15]. The value of touch has thus received nuanced debate within museums studies and has been explored as a related set of sensory concepts [23]. A feature of the role of touch has been the emotional connections of objects and people and the charisma of objects where it is possible to see ancient artefacts displayed in museums as having an extended object biography bringing them into our contemporary cultural context [10] [16].

Within digital technologies and computer applications a number of views and directions have emerged but the heritage sector in general is seeing a range of developments in the applications of haptic and virtual presentations of objects within museums [11] [5] [8]. In the networking cluster described more fully below the concerns of heritage sector curators, exhibitions officers and conservators was not so much on the value of adding touch experiences to the museum experience but on how to balance curating the objects whilst providing touch experiences. The charisma of objects and the desire of people to touch them were acknowledged. Well-known objects were seen as particularly problematic. That is why the focus of the installations discussed here was one of the Lewis chess pieces as these objects are amongst the most popular artefacts in the whole of the collections within the National Museums Scotland.

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