When visitors leave the Tate Britain for the night, the robots will come out. People will control them from afar for "After Dark" exploration.
London's famous Tate Britain (known as the Tate Gallery when I first visited the UK decades ago) is the first of what has become four Tate museums across the country. Soon, the Tate Britain will be the first to offer robotic tours via a project called "After Dark."
Tommaso Lanza, one of The Workers' two principals, told me in a Skype interview that four simple robots will be constructed with lights to navigate around the darkened museum and spotlight the art, and cameras to stream their progress to computers around the world.
Each robot will be controlled by one person via the web, probably on a first-come, first-served basis, Lanza said. After each person's allotted time is up, the next person in the queue will take control. Viewers on the web also will be able to view information about some of the exhibits as the robot rolls along.
The Tate Britain has several floors, but the robots will be confined to the main gallery, which features 500 years of British art. The main gallery is free to on-site visitors, as will be the use of the robots. Lanza noted he considers the experience as more emotional than informational. That is, it won't be like strolling around the Tate during the day when there are noisy crowds peering at exhibits.
Instead, the experience will be quieter and less physically social as the robots roam among the exhibits, shining their light on artwork. It's possible the museum's After Dark website could show social chatter from people viewing the robot's transmissions, but that's a much different experience than experiencing exhibits surrounded by people in a brightly lit gallery. Lanza said it's not designed to replace a regular visit, but instead to be closer to a solitary "adventure" with more left to the imagination.
That's unlikely (sadly), and museum staff will be around to keep track of the robots. They also could be useful if someone tries to hack the system and spirit the robots away or make them smash into the art. Lanza says security is a concern, and the robots will be designed to prevent them from doing damage. Also, the robots roll along very slowly, so there's no chance they could make a desperate rapid escape into the street!
In addition, the Tate Britain hosts many special events at night, so people are often around. (But what about in the wee hours of the night?)
Lanza is spending so much time on the Tate Britain project that he hasn't had much time to consider the ramifications of "After Dark" for other museums, although he loves the idea of robots at more locations. To me, that's one of the most interesting possibilities. Why not take advantage of a museum's "down time" by allowing users to pilot robots to gain a different perspective of the exhibits? In fact, this could be one addition to a city's "nighttime economy," as I discussed in October and last month.
At least one other museum is taking advantage of robot tours, but not after hours. The National Museum of Australia in Canberra uses a robot that tags along with a human guide as the guide discusses the exhibits, and viewers watching via the Internet. One of the robot's cameras is focused on the guide, but people (students, for example) can take control of another camera for a 360 degree view of the museum.
Robots enable people who don't live near museums to see the exhibits and in some ways control the experience from their computers. They also put museums to greater use. Robots are providing real value. It's a technology and service museums around the world should seriously consider implementing.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing
Smaller more focused learning Alan,
I hope this project becomes a great success. It seems to be a transferable learning tool. Participants could study delicate and far away objects without touching things. Yet they can examine it from different angles. Maybe the robot could have a magnifying lens which will show the brush strokes.
Good point. I read Burning Chrome and saw "Strange Days." Many people will want such experiences, which is why I wrote that I'd like to see the Tate Britain's type of robots tested in other museums around the world. Perhaps it will at least spark other UK museums to try out the concept.
And the Tate's robots will be simplistic compared to science fiction type of scenarios. We've hardly begun to crawl to experience remote viewing and participation in all types of situations.
Re: Robots running the show There i a whole market for vicarious alternate reality experiences like this. there have been many movies made that illustrate some alternative examples, like Strange Days with ralph Feinnes or even the William Gibson novel Burning Chrome. Lots of possibilties there.
Yes, the Internet provides a wonderful way to look at museums. In some ways, it can provide much more information and perspective through detailed discussions, videos, close-ups, etc. However, as you write, it's still not comparable to seeing how an artist used brushstrokes.
You don't have to be too jealous of Britishers. After all, Americans and others should be able to tag along online or even control the robots. At least I assume that will be the case. But it's not like being there in person and accompanying the robots. It will be interesting to see if the Tate has learned much from how people use the robots and, perhaps, how the robots could be improved.
I've looked at a fair number of museum Web sites and some of them are pretty good. It's not like being there, but it's useful and you certainly can cover a lot of "ground" by viewing the exhibits online. Some of the museums also have apps for viewing their sites and also providing special information.
The Tate project, however, is designed to give viewers a new perspective on looking at the exhibits through a robot's eyes. It could be interesting and I'll certainly take a look when it's available.
Re: Great Idea This is a total lark - and I love it!
As a former staffer at the Smithsonian, I remember well many, many discussions about how to make the objects on the Mall (which is where most, but not all, of them are) how to push out access to those not in DC. The Web changed the equation permanently, of course - but so do traveling exhibits and the many relationships the Institution cultivates with its affiliate museums around the world.
It is one thing to Google an image "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" by Dali; it is another thing to look on the original and see the way the brush moved across the canvas.
I am so jealous of the Tate people who get to follow along at night as the robots are getting started and see what they are asked to view, how long they linger, etc. Super cool concept.
Re: Great Idea You know I've seen a Museum (I dont remember which) that had a virtural tour of its exhibits. It was all done online and it was free. You could click on a painting and it would tell you all about the painting from artist to colors used to oil or water colors and when and where it was painted. It wasnt like being there in person but it was a good way to view the art work and what not. Oh and it was free and no robots needed.
That's an interesting idea to hear music as the robot comes close to each work of art. I diybt that will occur, but it's an interesting thought. I guess viewers will have to play their own music. Perhaps the Tate could list appropriate musical selections. There will be some sort of information provided on the Web as the robots tour the museum.
I think it's a good idea, too, especially for people who can't visit museums for such reasons as the distance, cost, health, etc.
I believe there will be people from the museum to oversee the robots at night to ensure nothing untoward occurs, but the details are still being worked out. I don't know specific monetary disbursements, except for the two numbers I listed for the prize itself and the project. The robots are being constructed and they will be relatively simple. There will be no cost for users to view or control the robots.
The Tate and The Workers are concerned about security. I asked about that, and was told by Tommaso Lanza that efforts are underway to ensure security, although I don't know any details.
I think anyone with a computer will be able to view the robots. Again, the specifics are still being developed. The project won't be launched until this summer, possibly in August.
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