Touchless Interactive Technology for Museums

Six Ways to Create Interactive Experiences at Your Museum or Activation Without People Touching a Damn Thing

We are interactive, educational storytellers. We want our audience to get their mitts on stuff. To play, feel, drag objects, and touch interfaces so they're fully enveloped in a self-controlled, immersive learning experience that has them shouting, "holy sh*t I just made that happen!”

Well, COVID-19 tapped the brakes on us all. When the world sorts all this out, opens back up, and people are ready to visit your institution or event, they may not be quite prepared to put their wiggly fingers all over the installations.

We've been hearing from many of our partners in the Museum, Exhibit Design, and out-of-Home Activation space: "How can we create interactive experiences and museum exhibits without touchscreens?"

As part of our pro-bono consulting initiative, we outlined ways to create 'interactive' experiences and products without the whole "people touching any devices" thing. This touchless technology could be integrated into new or existing museum exhibits with varying degrees of effort.

  1. The Ultra Haptics by Ultra Leap is a gestural component that allows you to "feel" the air.
    It's pretty magical! By utilizing haptics, your visitors can touch invisible and mass-less interface dials, terrain maps, antiques, skeletons, etc. Technically, it's a speaker that emits ultrasonic waves—freaky, right?
  2. The Leap Motion controller, also created by Ultra Leap many moons ago, simply tracks your hand motion.
    We've been crazy about this Leap Motion device since we "acquired" an early prototype in the back room of an alcohol-fueled rumpus at SXSW 2013. Integrating this kind of immersive learning into a JavaScript or Unity project is easy and connects simply via USB.
  3. Google MediaPipe tracks hand motion using computer vision.
    As you'd expect, the Google MediaPipe project is sophisticated. The framework can be used for hand tracking or augmented reality overlays—it even touts sign language understanding. This kind of educational storytelling is amazing and quite groundbreaking. Check out the code on GitHub.
  4. The Microsoft Azure Kinect gives you advanced computer vision.
    Kinect is not a new name in the museum space. It has been used for years in magic mirrors, games, and motion-activated experiences that track body movement. The new model, Azure Kinect, has very sophisticated computer vision and speech detection onboard.
  5. OpenCV can do anything. It's made by wizards.
    OpenCV (Open Source Computer Vision Library) is an open-source computer vision and machine learning software library. It is constantly evolving thanks to its dedicated community of fans, scientists, and wizards that donate their code back to the OpenCV Source library. Adrian Rosebrock showcases object and face-tracking in his tutorial. 
  6. Beacons allow your audience to interact via a device they already have in their pocket.
    Beacons simply provide an open Bluetooth connection to your interactive exhibit. If you enhanced each kiosk with a beacon, you can adapt your existing museum mobile app to allow for people to interact with the exhibit by using the touchscreen on their own phone. It's a double win - now you have another great feature to improve your app's install rate.
  7. BONUS: Hygiene Hand Antimicrobial Brass EDC Door Opener & Stylus.
    Admittedly, this device is a super low-tech solution, but it works and has no integration costs! Buy some in bulk, brand them, and sell them in the gift shop at cost. You're welcome.

Once people feel safe visiting your cultural institution and we're marching forward into a world that's open for exploration, we'll need to be prepared to facilitate a community of learners who are not yet ready to touch anything.

Let me know if you've had success with hands-free touchless technology, educational storytelling, manufacturing something magical, or just need some help problem-solving interactive experiences and museum exhibits.