In recent years, Manchester Museum has pursued a philosophy of making more of its collection available for visitors to handle and touch through object handling sessions and tactile displays. As is well known, this approach benefits all visitors, as the sense of touch physically connects the visitor to the object and enhances an intuitive and natural curiosity to learn more. However, as a conservator I also know that some objects will not survive long term use as a handling object. Complex, beautiful objects often have the most captivating histories, but when displayed behind glass, they can be very difficult for a visually impaired visitor to appreciate.
We realized that the end user had to be involved in the process of developing the interactive from the very beginning. Over the past 18 months Christopher Dean and I worked with an enthusiastic focus group from Henshaws Society for Blind People. Members of the focus group chose three objects for the interactive: a faience shabti [380-343 BC], Greek jug [500-475 BC] and Pre-Dynastic hippo bowl [4000-3500 BC]. Even more importantly, they helped to guide us through the process of creating an easily navigable 3D digital space.
Laser scanning the pre-dynastic hippo bowl (4000-3500BC)
The haptic interface enables users to explore the digital scanned form of objects, using their sense of touch. We enhanced the digital content with sounds, video and the spoken word, creating a rich experience as the object’s story unfolds. We are also developing activities within the interface that enable the user to explore the silhouette of an object to enhance their understanding of its overall form. A portable version of the system is used for outreach to groups that may have problems getting to the museum.
|Haptic unit in the new gallery|