Smart Museums: 6 Artful IoT Applications for Museums and Galleries

BehrTech Blog

Smart Museums: 6 Artful IoT Applications for Museums and Galleries

While we often think of the Internet of Things has having a heavy presence in commercial and industrial environments, it also has reached widespread adoption in various public institutions like museums and art galleries. According to the American Alliance of Museums, museums contributed 50 billion dollars to the US economy and generated approximately 850 million visitors in 2019. The significant public interest in maintaining these historic and cultural centers and the increasing demand for creating new and innovative experiences has pushed museum facility managers and curators to adopt various IoT applications. Thanks to the availability and broad spectrum of wireless IoT sensors, these organizations are able to ensure the safety and proper preservation of artworks as well as create more dynamic visitor experiences.

Here are 6 ways smart museums and galleries are using IoT.

1. Artifact Preservation

Historical artifacts are extremely sensitive to even minor fluctuations in humidity, temperature and light. Prolonged exposure to moisture, high temperatures as well as sunlight and fluorescent light can lead to a variety of problems, such as shrinking, warping, decay, fading and discoloration. Prior to the availability of IoT sensors, monitoring ambient conditions was a manual and laborious task. Museum administrators had no clear recourse for improving control systems and making timely adjustments, putting these priceless artifacts at risk for damage.

By integrating IoT sensors into storage and display architectures, museums are now able to collect and analyze critical environmental data such as temperature, humidity and lighting in real time. This data enables staff to adjust the humidity, temperature and lighting of exhibits with precision, helping to cut operation costs, reduce the frequency of restoration projects and protect valuable artifacts.

2. Leak Detection

Whether it is a leaking air conditioner, condensation, groundwater or local plumbing, water damage can have a devastating and costly impact on museums and galleries.

Leak detection solutions notify facility managers at the very first sign of a leak allowing them to take remedial action. For example, water leak sensing cables can be placed on pipes in walls near display areas, or around the perimeter of an especially sensitive area. Spot leak sensors can be used in the top of drop-in ceiling tiles to provide early warning of water leaks coming from pipes, upper floors, or the roof to ensure quick intervention and avoid flooding throughout the gallery or exhibit.

3. Artifact Management and Security

More than 50,000 pieces of artwork are stolen each year around the world and the black market for stolen art is valued at between $6 billion and $8 billion annually. Given many of these pieces are valued at millions of dollars, some even priceless, museum security is of utmost importance. IoT offers multiple ways to help with museum security.

Access Control

In smart museums, IoT sensors attached to windows, doors and artifact display cases can immediately alert museum security upon opening and closing to detect and prevent intrusive incidents. Movement and vibration sensors can also be placed in and around works of art that send an alert, silent or otherwise if they’re touched, signalling to museum employees that there may be a theft in progress. 

Individual Article Tracking 

IoT sensors enabled with near-field communication and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons can track pieces of art wherever they go and provide critical data on their condition. Tied to larger museum networks, this offers the possibility of real-time status monitoring and change detection to help prevent theft.

Occupancy Sensing

Presence detection sensors can help museum guards secure a building after closing, sending real-time irregular movement alerts directly to the main security center for immediate action.

4. Interactive Exhibits

There are more than 35,000 museums in the U.S., so to ensure high attendance numbers, an increase in memberships and more revenue, artists and exhibitors must bring something unique to the table. With the help of IoT devices, artists, museums, and galleries are finding new ways to make their exhibits more interactive from collecting virtual objects, to helping visitors plan out personalized exhibit routes with interactive maps and even enabling artists to create unique installations and experiences.  

For example, new media artist Matt Roberts, uses technology to create a sound experience within the museum space by sampling oceanic currents to provide data that modulates the sounds. The data is transmitted to his exhibit from nearby buoys using IoT-linked weather monitors.

IoT has also been used to create interactive exhibits and events through wearable technologies. For example, the Children’s Museum of Houston launched a spy-themed scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt uses passive low-frequency RFID technology linked to players’ wristbands, which is able to track participants’ progress, location and repeat visits.

5. Visitor Behaviour

From the standpoint of visitors, the attractiveness of the exhibition depends on two characteristics: uniqueness of exhibits and popularity of artists. Presence detection sensors can help curators better understand which areas of the gallery receive the most viewers and which artworks attract the most of attention. These sensors provide real-time data around dwell times within the different rooms as well as specific artworks, providing insight into the interest level of the curated exhibit. Likewise, wireless IoT sensors that measure visitor respiration rate and resting heart rate from a distance, can indicate a physical response to certain artworks. Do visitors’ heartbeat increase when looking at this installation? This information can be used to fuel novel, adaptive and engaging museum experiences.

6. Guest Comfort

As with any business attracting and hosting visitors, ensuring the health, safety and comfort of guests is paramount. Using IoT sensors for Indoor Environmental Quality monitoring is key to ensuring these spaces have clean air to breathe and the ambient temperature, light and noise quality is optimal for visitor comfort.

Likewise, with the help of wireless IoT sensors, museum staff can proactively monitor when consumable supplies such as hand sanitizer, hand soap, paper towel and toilet paper are running low to ensure timely replenishment.

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