Lonnie G. Bunch III traveled to Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters a little more than a year ago to meet with leaders of the Black Googler Network, an employee group. The director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was then under construction, wanted to tap their technical expertise.
“He made the simple request: ‘However you can, help me make this museum redefine what it means to be a museum in the modern age and be at the cusp of innovation,'” said Travis McPhail, a Google Maps software engineer.
McPhail was inspired.
Google employees have since been developing interactive-display technology that will allow visitors to examine artifacts from all angles using 3D scans that they access through their smartphone’s Web browser. Their phone will also serve up relevant multimedia content, such as text or video, that better explains the artifacts and their significance to African American history.
McPhail said that the technology aims to solve a persistent challenge for museums: only a fraction of their artifacts are on display at any one time. Historic objects must be specially handled and maintained, making it difficult for the museum to put out too many at once. There is also finite physical space.
The technology eliminates those limitations.
“I thought we should be able to add tech to this story and scale up the number of artifacts that would tell a historical story,” McPhail said. “We should be able to do that in a way where visitors really can get a sense of how these objects played a part in history.”
The African America history museum is set to open September 24, but the Google display is not expected until next spring.
Representatives from the museum did not respond to a request for comment.
This isn’t Google’s first museum project. The Google Cultural Institute works with museums and historic sites to integrate interactive technology into their exhibits and enhance the experience for visitors and reach those who may not be able to travel to a physical location.
Earlier this week, the company unveiled an online exhibit called Natural History that uses virtual reality, online video and photos about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures to bring “an extinct world back to life.”