The Smithsonian is Shifting to a Future of Digital Museum Experiences


The Smithsonian’s assortment of historic artifacts is so giant that just one% of its 150 million piece assortment is showcased at any given time. Mixed with age and fragility, the museum is shortly virtualizing its assortment to be seen on-line.

The aim of the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office (DPO) is to digitally scan these historic artifacts and publish these scans on-line for future generations to get pleasure from and work together with. Since 2009, the DPO has used digital scanning expertise to seize historic artifacts in three dimensions and provide these scans on-line for the world to see.

“We really feel a nice sense of urgency in bringing our collections on-line,” the DPO says. “With just one% of the Smithsonian’s collections on show at anybody time, digitization might enable us to deliver the remaining 99% of the gathering into the digital gentle. These digital belongings will enable not simply the Smithsonian, however the world at giant, to inform and share new tales in regards to the acquainted — and the unfamiliar — treasures in these collections.”

With the gathering divided by 21 museums, 9 analysis facilities, a zoo, and quite a few storage services, the problem of sustaining these artifacts in museum-quality situation is huge. The DPO is charged with digitizing these collections utilizing cutting-edge applied sciences and exploring methods to improve the entry, use, and influence of these digitized Smithsonian collections. To date, the DPO has digitally captured over 5 million objects from the gathering, with two tasks at the moment underway.

Among the instruments used for the DPO’s chief mission is the approach of photogrammetry. This is the method of taking lots of, and even 1000’s of digital footage from each conceivable angle, together with photographs up shut and at a distance.

With full protection, these pictures are then positioned into a pc and software program creates a level cloud which might then be used to view the artifact in three dimensions. The software program is succesful of creating an actual 3D mannequin of the artifact, which might be downloaded and 3D printed. The information can be used to restore damaged artifacts just about to allow them to be seen complete once more.

In Photogrammetry, 3D Models can be generated based on the image data.

The DPO desires to transcend simply a scan from any angle, but additionally desires customers to grow to be absolutely immersed within the artifact, perceive the story behind it, and expertise what it was like to use the artifact. The DPO argues that this is the long run of museums.

Interior Scan of the Apollo 11 command module.

An ideal instance of this technique in motion is what the Smithsonian has achieved with the Apollo 11 command module. With the unique sealed away behind thick polycarbonate glass, a museum customer can solely see it from a distance and will by no means get inside it. But with the digital scan, instantly the whole ship turns into explorable and particulars just like the handwritten notes by pilot Michael Collins inscribed on the ship’s instrument panel are one thing everybody can get pleasure from.

Imagine placing on Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit and taking that “one small step” on the moon from a first-person perspective, or taking Chuck Yeager’s Bell X1 plane — generally known as the “Glamorous Glennis” — up within the digital air to break the sound barrier.

These are historic occasions that anybody might be ready to expertise with out bringing put on and tear to the delicate artifacts themselves. History comes alive whereas being preserved and turns into a much more impactful expertise in contrast to traces of textual content and footage in a historical past e book.

The DPO has digitally scanned over 5 million artifacts to date.

In the tip, museums are about storytelling, and the Digitization Program Office is utilizing each new expertise at its disposal to ensure that these tales are informed for generations to come. As the method continues, the DPO’s workplace permits anybody to take a have a look at the rising digital assortment of historic artifacts up shut. The DPO even permits anybody to obtain fashions and print them out at residence.


Image credit: All pictures by Smithsonian Digitization Program Office.

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