National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

Smithsonian retools for post-COVID visitor tech

As it prepares to welcome social distancing visitors once it reopens, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is developing a strategy to convert elements of its in-person interactive exhibits to mobile apps, said Rayvn Manuel, senior application developer at the museum.

In the post-COVID world, museums may need to minimize touch interaction with the electronic panels that supplement exhibits, as well as limit the number of people that can get near physical exhibits, she said in remarks during a Sept. 3 ATARC webcast.

"In small spaces, you can't social distance," she said. That means museum attendees can't cluster around exhibits that have interactive touch screens that offer additional information about displays or "discovery centers" that provide central screens to access a range of data, she said. "We're playing with other technology, like using mobile device QR codes" and adapting augmented reality apps like those used in commercial games such as Pokemon Go that will allow more distancing, as well as opportunities to get information away from settings that concentrate people in one place, she said.

The NMAAHC, on the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C., tallied two million visitors in 2019, according to the Smithsonian, putting it fourth in attendance among the institution's 21 museums. Like the majority of the Smithsonian Institution's stable of museums in the Washington area, the NMAAHC currently remains closed to the public.

However, Manuel is developing apps that can assist future visitors, particularly the crowds of school-age children with their in-person visits once the facility opens up in the coming weeks or months.

DevOps techniques, said Manuel, are a key to quickly developing alternatives to the popular touch screens and other interactive exhibits in the museum.

"The development strategies to produce applications are all different," she said, because the museum's exhibits cover a huge range of subjects that come with vastly different historical and explanatory data. "You can't be too prescriptive because of that."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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