March 28, 2002

Project 'MUSE' Will Display Art on PDA's

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Museum visitors in the future will be able to learn about exhibits using handheld electronic devices due to a research project being developed by Cornell students and faculty. The project, called MUSE, is currently being tested in the Johnson Art Museum.

The MUSE project is run by the Human-Computer Interaction Group, a research team made up of Cornell students and faculty. According to Posner, “the lab is interdisciplinary in that it combines communication, computer science, engineering and cognitive psychology.” Posner commented that one positive aspect of the group is the ability of people from several different fields to come together to work towards a common goal.

“It’s intellectually stimulating to be in that environment,” she said.

The MUSE project is being developed by a team directed by Prof. Geri Gay, communications. Gay said that much of the research involves “replicating social things people already do.” Gay also said that when working on developing the project, the team had to think about “what [it could do] to facilitate learning.”

According to Nick Farina ’02 “each exhibit is tagged with an infrared beacon.” Museum visitors carry around handheld computers (much like palm pilots) called PDA’s which then sense the visitors location in relation to the exhibits and allow them to access large amounts of information about the exhibit, artist (including other pieces of artwork) and even symbolism among other facts.

“It’s a porthole to infinite amounts of information,” Farina said.

According to Gay, the devices are a sort of “electronic docent” for the museum visitor.

“You could load what you need onto your own device,” she said.

The MUSE project is currently working with three other museums in addition to the Johnson Art Museum. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Museum of Moving Image in New York City and Kew Gardens in London are also involved.

“We’re working with museums all over the world,” Gay said.

Emily Posner ’04, is one of the students working on the MUSE project. Posner became involved with the lab as a freshman Cornell Presidential Research Scholar and with the MUSE project specifically this year. To prepare for her participation in the project, Posner studied information about the project and spent time “looking at data and figuring out how the lab collects it.”

According to Posner, the first phase of her research involved collecting data from surveys distributed to volunteers. The survey included “110 statements about what a palm pilot could do,” said Posner. Participants then decided which statements (and in turn which features) were the most important to them in using the handheld computers.

“I’m currently designing and creating a web-based survey. It will be sent to the three other museums that are participating in the project,” said Posner.

Posner commented that she is pursuing this second phase of research in an effort to “find out what staff would like to see.”

According to Farina, the next stage of testing of the PDA’s will take place on the fifth floor of the Johnson Museum in the Asian collection in upcoming weeks.

“We’ll offer museum visitors a chance to try out the system,” he said.

Posner commented that she is also continuing to work with potential users.

“We’re in the stages of finding out what features potential users would want to have,” she said.

Posner also said that “scenario testing” of the project will be conducted at the participating museums this summer.

Both Posner and Farina commented on the possibilities of future use of the handheld devices.

“I could also see this technology being used in many other applications,” Posner said, citing sporting events as one potential future use of the devices.

Farina commented that in the future, the PDA’s will have many different additional abilities.

Archived article by Kate Cooper