What have we achieved after one year?

After a succesful review of the meSch project in March 2014 we are already full speed ahead in year 2. It is time to look back at research progress and achievements that were made in the first year. What have we done so far to achieve our goals? It´s also a great moment to look forward – what’s coming next?

‘To listen is to learn, …’

The main focus in year one was on establishing the workflow of a cultural heritage professional for building the interactive exhibits, exploring ideas for user scenarios and turning them into a first set of prototypes, as well as generating user requirements for the software tool. The best way to understand the needs of heritage professionals is to visit them in their natural habitat. Therefore the whole project consortium paid each of the three museums in the consortium a visit. In Amsterdam, Den Haag (NL) and Rovereto (IT) project partners gained understanding of the museum environments, their audiences and the different challenges they face in presenting their collections.  There and in follow up workshops user scenarios were developed and requirements for the software tools were generated by applying a variety of creative techniques like scenario building, video sketching and prototyping was applied. Designers, heritage professionals, researchers and technical partners of the meSch consortium found the co-design method very effective. Challenges museums currently face and goals they want to accomplish were directly addressed and put to practice in their own museum environment. In addition, in-depth interviews with heritage professionals led to a better understanding of their practices when setting up an exhibition, the role technology plays (or could play) in it, the network involved and the various roles and responsibilities that apply.

Photo by Nick Dulake.

During the full consoritium meeting we explored the Museo della Guerra in Italy. Forte Pozzaccio is part of the museum and poses interesting questions about interactive exhibits in a breathtaking alpine area. Photo by Nick Dulake.

 ‘… and to understand is to inspire.’

Following the various co-design activities, multiple prototypes for smart objects were developed. Of these, the museums involved in meSch chose the most promising, useful and technically viable for further development. Amongst these were further developed prototypes were for instance the Loupe, the Companion Novel and the Plinth. In local exploratory labs heritage professionals from outside the consortium were also invited to evaluated the prototypes according to the use(fullness) in their own environment. The work done in these labs, in combination with the co-design workshops, form the basis for the heritage professional user scenarios.


Video impression of a co-design activity: the exploratory lab at Waag Society, Amsterdam.

Progress on the meSch technology: the hard(est) part(s)

Our prototypes were built from a set of physical components that can be quickly and easily combined to an interactive environment, directly in the museum premises. They can be re-arranged and modified, turned into a fixed installation or disassembled and reused in other setups. All low level components originate in Arduino boards, .NET Gadgeteer and Raspberry Pi Do-it-Yourself kits. The components were hidden inside pretty and practical enclosures which have been laser cut, 3D printed or bought from the shelf to create inexpensive, tangible smart objects that are easy to reproduce. And, we even built or own platform: the Blidget. It is a tiny, Web browser programmable always-on, ultra-low power platform based on Bluetooth LE. It allows easy creation of smart objects and runs up to a year on a coin-cell battery.  It was designed and produced exclusively for MeSch and presented to the world at the TEI Studio ´14.

Blidget is a tiny, Web browser programmable always-on platform for easy creation of smart objects and environments.

Blidget is a tiny, Web browser programmable, always-on platform for easy creation of smart objects and environments. It was developped and designed by USTUTT  and is produced exclusively for meSch.

The software: content enrichment and system architecture

Besides hardware components, meSch will also create an authoring tool with an easy to use interface. To create narratives for the smart exhibits, heritage professionals will be able to use their own resources (such as collection databases and exhibition texts) and enrich them with content from online digital heritage repositories and other related sources. Therefore existing data sources and services of interest for the heritage community have been analysed. This analysis forms the basis for the development of the data integration component. Besides that the full system architecture for the meSch platform has been defined. It specifies what parts of the software have to be built and how they interact. Additionally, it has been identified what existing infrastructure technologies and data modelling approach will be built upon and adopted.

Personalisation of content and interaction

For a long time, personalization in cultural heritage has mostly been synonymous of content adaptation, thus dynamically changing the amount or type of information to fit visitors interests and behaviour. In the meSch scenario however, personalisation also needs to influence the sensing and behaviour abilities of objects and experience patterns. So we started the research in personalisation techniques by combining the results of a user-centred study with a literature-based study to find out which personalization features are meaningful, desirable and sustainable. We are currently translating the emerged user and technical requirements into implementation choices for functionalities that support the author-supervised customisation of the content and of the overall visitor experience. The most complex aspects are the system-controlled adaption and forms of content adaption driven by visitors’ choices. Early prototyping of the core personalization functionalities and sample rules for interaction are in progress.

CoDice: A tool to support co-design

Great effort has been made in the first year to understand cultural heritage professionals as users of the meSch technology and involving their expertise in the design process. Co-design activities were used to clarify what curators want to enhance in their museum, what kind of connections with digital content they envisage, which functionalities of the authoring tool they desire, what basic templates for interactive exhibitions could ease the start of authoring (e.g. templates for a quest, an interactive game, a self-guided tour, etc.) and what the design requirements are for interfacing personalised content for museum visitors. The co-design activities were conducted by a multidisciplinary team in different countries, which makes effective knowledge sharing a challenge. Therefore, a tool is being built, that will support the exchange of co-design resources and outcomes in a participatory, iterative and distributed way. From a technological perspective, the tool will support different ways of collaboratively creating, discussing and visualizing the entities of the design. The first prototype of ‘CoDICE’ has been delivered by the end of year 1 and is ready for evaluation and further development in year 2.

The CoDice mobile application allows easy uploading of co-design resources.

The CoDice mobile application allows easy uploading of co-design resources.

What´s next?

In the second year of the project we will produce a first prototype of the meSch software platform and a definite set of physical components by refining the exploratory work. Three large-scale case studies will be prepared to put the meSch technology to work. These events will be open to the public and take place at the three museum partners of the project: Museon, Allard Pierson Museum and Museo della Guerra. These settings will allow us to experiment indoor and outdoor, as well as with different types of audiences and different curatorial purposes. Gaining insights on the effectiveness and transferability of the meSch technology to different heritage contexts and visitor types will be the main goal of the case studies. Also, we will start with looking into exploitation possibilities and future business models for the meSch platform in order to sustain it after the project has ended.