Avatars, VR headsets and 3D digital worlds are no longer the preserve of videogames – since the start of lockdown, virtual experiences have become a vital tool for helping cultural institutions connect with audiences.
In response to this growing demand, a new app is being developed that aims to bring virtual visits to museums, galleries and heritage sites to life in a more social, shared and immersive way.
Part-funded by the UK Government’s Innovate UK fund, the Curatours app has been developed by the virtual reality company, Cooperation Innovations.
“This [app] creates a different way of engaging with the content of museums and galleries,” said Emma Cooper, the project lead at Cooperation Innovations. “It has the potential to offer audiences something even when they can’t go and visit.”
The social interaction aspect of the app is unique; visitors will be able to access Curatours via a smartphone, tablet, computer or VR headset and can join friends, family and other visitors online. Staff will be on hand to interact with visitors and answer any queries they may have about the objects on display.
Cooper said: “In Curatours, you are in the same space as everyone else. The people you can see and hear have an avatar and you can interact with them in the same way you would in a Zoom call.”
Cooperative Innovations currently has two partners: the Anne Frank House and National Trust of Scotland (NTS). Michael Terwey, head of heritage services and consultancy at NTS, said: “We are really excited to be working with this partnership and excited for the potential of this new product.”
This year has highlighted the importance of the virtual experience, he said. “Finding ways of creating experiences which are based on our heritage is important.”
The National Trust for Scotland is applying the Curatours app to Hill House in Helensburgh, one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most famous buildings. Terwey said Hill House was chosen for its potential global reach.
In addition, the trust has been taking 3D scans of the building as part of ongoing conservation work, giving Cooperative Innovations a large amount of data to work with.
Cooper said: “The partnership is wonderful, and we can see a need to support the sector. Not only are we hoping to further the development of our own product, but our partners are able to explore new audiences and are able to deliver on their promise to their membership.”
Curatours will launch at the end of 2021.