Google Adds Virtual Reality Features, AI Power To Extend Museum Experience

Historic artworks are about to meet new technologies, thanks to Google.

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality features just added to an Android and iOS app are intended to bring rich museum experiences to smartphone owners across the world.

In the just-relaunched Google Arts and Culture app, museum attendees receive supplemental media and information when they point their smartphone at pieces of art.

The initial app was launched last year, but recently gained new features aimed at enhancing consumer experiences inside select museums and bringing arts and culture to consumers who are far away from museums.

The new Art Recognizer feature uses artificial intelligence to understand what the phone is seeing and then delivers content like videos, images, essays and artist bios to the phone.

The feature is currently being tested in London, New South Wales and Washington DC, according to Google.

The idea is to bridge the gap between types of content that traditionally have been isolated from each other, according to Luisella Massa, head of operations at the Google Cultural Institute.

One example that Massa points to is that Van Gogh referenced an early draft of one of his paintings in a letter to his brother, but the letter and the artwork fall under two categories, art and history, and thus physically reside in different museums. By pointing a phone at the artwork, which triggers the letter to pop up on the phone, the cultural experience is enriched, according to Massa.

The other feature in the app relies on virtual reality. With the use of a VR headset like Google Cardboard, consumers can access immersive curated tours of artwork from different locations as well as different periods of time.

One use of this capability is a virtual tour of The Water Tank Project, which wrapped water tanks on New York City rooftops in artwork in 2014. The virtual tour is narrated and showcases 360-degree views of the water tanks in context to the city.


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