While in Paris for the SIME-SITEM 2013 conference, I tried out the Louvre’s new location-aware tour of the galleries on a Nintendo 3DS xl. Nintendo donated both the dual-screen devices and the wireless network that the devices use for recognizing their location in the galleries. Probably because the system uses a proprietary and dedicated network and software for way finding, the location-awareness worked well despite the huge challenges of the historic building with its thick walls, reflective surfaces, and gold-leafed ceilings, which tend to turn the galleries into Faraday cages. Nonetheless, it was a shame that public wifi is still not on offer in the Louvre’s galleries, even though they are all now wired for it. The public wifi that was supposed to be available at the info desk area under the pyramid didn’t even work well enough to allow me to download the museum’s apps to my own smartphone. Hopefully better public wifi is coming soon, now that some of the big infrastructure challenges have been successfully tackled!
The content was repurposed from the previous generation of multimedia tour at the Louvre, which I collaborated on developing in 2006/7 while heading up new product development for Antenna Audio. It’s a fairly traditional museum audiotour style but uses an interview style that keeps it lively and interesting. Like other large museums, the Louvre has a huge international audience, so the content is available in 8 languages and covers over 1,500 objects in the permanent collection.
Other museum professionals have told me they didn’t like the Nintendo device, which is rented from desks at the major entries to the museum’s galleries, finding it clunky and non-intuitive with its folding, two-screen form. But the devices were clearly going like hot cakes to the visitors, and I didn’t hear or see any major problems. Although I spent more time looking at and figuring out how to use the device than I would have liked, it did work reasonably well for me. I particularly liked the 3D images of the galleries on the top screen that helped me find my way thanks to large, friendly arrows that pointed the way and complimented the map view on the lower screen.
Here are some images of the device in action:
Hats of to the Louvre for continuing to push the boundaries of mobile in museums while meeting the substantial challenge of service some 8 million visitors a year in multiple languages across a vast, historic building. On the one hand it is unfortunate that the Ninetendo system is proprietary and dedicated to this one use, so it’s difficult to derive ‘network effects’ to support other technology initiatives and services in the museum; on the other hand, indoor location-based systems remain very difficult to achieve both technically and financially, so it is probably inevitable that any reasonably successful deployment will be proprietary and dedicated at this point. The costs of this solution remain out of reach for most cultural organizations, but this kind of live r&d is critical to the sector and I, for one, am grateful to the Louvre and Nintendo for adding to our body of mobile knowledge in this way.