The Contribution of Mixed Reality to Cultural Heritage during the pandemic

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The global health emergency caused by the Covid-19 virus, in addition to having generated a profound impact on the industrial sector of our country and in the rest of the world, has profoundly affected a sector that in Italy is worth 13% of GDP, it is tourism.

The estimated crisis and post-crisis losses are in billions of euros and are mainly caused by limitations on travel, especially international ones, and by the rules of social distancing which will constitute a brake on the prosperity of the tourism and cultural heritage sector which employs 15% of the overall Italian workers.

In addition to dealing with the obvious losses in turnover that will affect the tourism sector, both in Italy and in the rest of the world, operators and managers of cultural heritage, are beginning to realize that the main road to overcome the crisis is that of “digital transformation”. Thanks to these solutions, it will be possible to make cultural heritage available to everyone, including tourists who cannot travel. In some use cases the immersive technologies, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, have shown not only to be able to overcome the problem of remote use, but also to have the ability to enrich the visiting experience with content and information normally not available.

Here are some possibilities for operators of museum structures and sites of interest in general:

Digitization of the exhibition spaces
It is a photogrammetric or laser scanner reconstruction of the real spaces of places such as museums. This activity allows you to create a digital version of the museum, on which various types of experiences can be grafted, from browsing the environments, in Google Streetview style, to enabling multimedia points of interest with voice, video or simply narrations associated. This type of use case can be made usable by both web browsers and mobile applications.
Virtual Reality Routes
This use case involves the artificial reconstruction of spaces, in their current state or in a state that corresponds to a different historical period. It is mainly used when you want to show content and routes related to sites that have been lost in whole or in part. This category includes some of the stages of the Circo Maximo Experience project, through which you can relive the chariot races in ancient Rome.
Mixed Reality Routes
To make the most of digital content and apply it not only to the virtual context, but also to the physical assets available within a site of interest, Mixed Reality techniques are used, they exploit the coexistence of VR and AR, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in reconstructions anchored to real objects (e.g. ruins), and to view completely artificial contents. The result can be obtained both by using Mixed Reality headsets and mobile devices, even the latter, in fact, with dedicated technologies, are able to perform very well object recognition and tracking.
Simple Digital Routes
One possibility that does not contemplate the use of immersive technologies, but which still allows a light digitization of the visit experience, is the creation of applications that provide digital access to content, presenting it in traditional ways, such as image galleries, video and audio narrations.
In conclusion, the digitization process of entities operating in the cultural heritage sector can only be accelerated due to the Coronavirus emergency, but the road has already been traced by a series of successful experiences, both in Italy and abroad.

The advantage for operators in the sector is therefore to facilitate access to the sites of interest at a time when these will be subject to rules that will provide for the quota of entrances, social distancing and the use of personal protection devices. The digital experience can to some extent make up for the drop in turnover that operators will most likely face this season and we do not rule out even in the years to come.

Analysis:

Introducing XR technology into the museum experience could be refreshing for the tourism industry. Transforming the data online could also increase the number of people who have access to art and cultural heritage. However, the hardware still needs some updates to make the experience more satisfying. Holding VR goggles in the museum could be tiring.

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