Eye, Robot: the future of museums

March 22, 2017

MEAUX, France — Near the edge of a parapet of stacked sandbags, a test robot rumbles, offering visitors hundreds of miles away a bleak view of military life in World War I trenches.

A real French or German soldier could never have seen more than about 30 feet along the zigzag shelters. But now, at the Musée de la Grande Guerre, ultimately anyone in the world will be able to pilot a robot by computer to zoom in for a close look at cramped replicas of German and French dugouts.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/arts/design/museums-experiment-with-robots-as-guides.html?smid=tw-nytimesarts&smtyp=cur

Despite a slightly irrational fear of robots which probably came from watching Terminator when I was still a bit too young, I’m always fascinated to read about developments in the field of robotics, especially when they intersect with the cultural space. Here, robots are being trialled as a kind of long-distance, controllable tour guide. 

As one of the interviewees in this article notes, there’s no substitute for the emotional response a visitor gets from actually standing before a piece of art, culture, or heritage. However, not everyone is able to reach cultural institutions to enjoy this personal reaction – be it through financial, logistical, or personal constrictions. 

As a means of opening up culture to more and more people, I think this approach has promise. One thing I was surprised not to see mentioned was the potential for a team up with VR technology, since advances in this field are moving at an impressive pace. 

So, in the near future, is it so hard to imagine navigating a robot through a physical landscape while enjoying a real time, VR rendering of that space hundreds of miles away? Probably not. 

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