How to Build the Next Generation of Museums with RTLS

Dinosaur fossil museum display, Fabio Belloni Forbes tech council logo/pic

The museum space is experiencing something akin to a transformation.

As advanced technologies make their way into the most unexpected of places, cultural public entities like history museums and art galleries are no exception. The centuries-old paintings may not change, but the way we view them will.

What does such a transformed museum entail? A more immersive, personalized visitor experience delivered and shaped by new technologies. It looks like an innovative exhibition space with a somewhat universal yet personalized appeal, something that can be suited to everyone’s taste. A venue that is gratifying and simultaneously efficient and functional. 

RTLS – or Real-Time Locating Systems – can be the catalyst for such a transformation. These location-based systems provide accurate real-time tracking for tags and personal devices that have downloaded an app, generating valuable location data with a diversity of uses. 

In the arts and culture world, technology is reinventing the visitor experience. From classical art galleries to food history museums, asset tracking systems can deliver information in real time about an exhibit when a visitor approaches. The information is automatically triggered the moment a spectator advances toward a piece, which is indicated via their phone’s location. 

While RTLS has primarily gained traction in the manufacturing sector, the technology’s uses go far beyond that, with more affecting applications. Location data is increasingly being recognized as a valuable asset for museums, spectator events, entertainment venues, and even amusement parks, enhancing visitor navigation and immersion while providing powerful new capabilities for infrastructure design and event planning.

Getting the most out of RTLS

Before we dive further into the benefits of RTLS, let’s talk about the practical side. What do museum operators need to consider when implementing RTLS for maximum gain? They must evaluate their tracking environment, their tracking needs, and the coverage area.

The tracking environment is often a particular challenge for museums, which tend to be housed in centuries-old buildings that pose challenging operating conditions: peculiar layouts, impenetrable concrete, and poor electrical wiring. That means museum operators need to select an RTLS system capable of dealing with structural interference and multi-floor environments, like those positioning systems that can transmit signals through metal and concrete. 

Then there’s the question of tracking needs: what will you be using RTLS for and what are your end objectives? That can elucidate the positioning accuracy required and an acceptable latency: for exhibit information, the reaction speed needs to be as quick as possible with minimal latency. And the positioning accuracy must be precise down to centimeters to trigger the correct exhibit at the correct time. So, even if this adds to the expenses, it’s best to select a system with high precision and latency for the technology to fulfil its purpose.

Finally, there’s the coverage area: this will determine the number of Locators you need to deploy throughout your facility and their positioning. Does your museum sprawl across multiple buildings on sprawling grounds? Or are the exhibits relatively concentrated?

Demonstrate proof of concept

Once you’ve determined the positioning accuracy you need and the scalability required, museums can kickstart the implementation process. 

This should start with a proof of concept (POC) test in a small section of the museum – this can continue operations unabated while reserving a single exhibit or so for a trial run. Try five or so Locators.

Proof of concept tests are also useful to get employees on board so that all staff understand the technology before it goes fully online, helping to reduce the chaos of an overnight, full-out transition to an RTLS system. When rolling out RTLS in your facilities, it is essential to make sure that all employees and stakeholders understand why RTLS is being used and how it can make their lives better. 

A proof of concept test can also help operators to understand if visitors are actually engaging with the technology before deploying widespread implementation: here you can see what works and what doesn’t, tweaking its use according to the data generated in POC, along with simply interviewing guests and soliciting feedback on their experience.

Define use cases

When demonstrating proof of concept, museums should start small with a few specific objectives before attempting to scale. These can simply be to build more interactive and immersive visitor experiences, to gather data on exhibit popularity, or even to use visitor movements to design future layouts. 

Undoubtedly, RTLS’s true value lies in its ability to accurately and reliably pinpoint location down to the centimeter-level – an approach uniquely suited for museums packed with artworks and artefacts. At the Ajman Fort Museum in Dubai, for instance, the technology works seamlessly for paintings spaced less than two meters away from one another. 

But it’s not just exhibits that can be integrated with RTLS: museums can also monitor guest volume, room capacity, and visitor flow/paths. The technology helps museum operators analyze the behavioural patterns of guests to see how they navigate a floor plan and the path they take. The resulting visitor heat map can help design more efficient routes and exhibition layouts, show which exhibits get the most attention to inform future collections, and determine the current volume to prevent congestion. 

These insights will create smoother visitor flows with ideally less foot traffic and visitor volume – potentially even making a dent in infamously long queues at world-renowned exhibitions. This promotes comfort and safety-driven optimization: allowing guests to see what they came for while retaining room to breathe. Moreover, this information allows management to improve crowd control and evacuation measures if needed.

People in a museum

Moving forward

Just because an artefact is from the time of the Neanderthals, doesn’t mean the museum that holds it has to be. It’s time to reinvent and revitalize the visitor experience with easy-to-use technology that enables more personalized and memorable encounters. 

As we increasingly question the role of technology in our lives, it’s time to see how these tools can enhance not just efficiency and functionality, but art – including the art of being a spectator.

Did you know?

Quuppa is the leading RTLS platform for indoor positioning.

This article was originally published in

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    Fabio Belloni

    Fabio Belloni

    Fabio Belloni is the Co-founder & Chief Customer Officer at Quuppa. He is also a member of Forbes Technology Council – A Community for World-Class CIOs, CTOs, and Technology Executives. (Read more here)