Building the Museum of the Future with Google Glass

Google Glass app being developed through NU-ACCESS will allow for virtual exploration of artworks.Jenny Draper

Different wavelengths of light are pointed at works of art in laboratories all over the world, dissecting structure and pigments not seen with the naked eye. Each week it seems experts uncover some facet of a painting previously lost to time, from discovering Rembrandt’s self-portrait to solving a 400 year-old mystery.

NU-ACCESS believes scientists should not be the only ones privy to sleuthing the hidden histories of art. The team’s latest Google Glass project transforms anyone into an art curator, initiating the era of a more futuristic museum experience.

“Within the last five to 10 years analytical imaging has really revolutionized the way that we are able to interrogate a work of art,” NU-ACCESS Senior Scientist Marc Walton said, adding that the progressive software is “democratizing the data.”

Historically, some revolutionary inventors looked to science fiction as a blueprint. Consider how the “Star Trek” communicator influenced Motorola research director Martin Cooper to invent the first mobile phone in the ‘70s, or how American inventor Simon Lake, inspired by the undersea travel in Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” created the modern submarine 28 years later.

Superman’s X-ray vision is the latest muse for new technology that NU-ACCESS hopes to place in the public’s hands. Museumgoers in the near future may scrutinize art wearing headgear—no, not orthodontic equipment—but Google Glass (as shown in the animation here). In collaboration with Marc Walton, a computer science professor Oliver Cossairt and his student Jeziel Jones are developing an app, tentatively called Glass Paint, in which users can choose from ultraviolet, infrared or X-ray options to view a painting. Each wavelength goes a little bit deeper into the art, illuminating what the artist had previously sketched or covered up.

“It’s a way to turn back time,” NU-ACCESS Co-director Francesca Casadio said. “It’s certainly a wonderful tool to have, to get into an artist’s psyche, if you wish to understand the genesis of a work.”

Is Glass Paint just the beginning of an immersive museum experience? Future museums may expand virtual reality capabilities, transplanting visitors from one gallery to another, or even turning tours into games.

“Knowing that there are some secrets that you can discover could also impact museum viewers,” Casadio said. “You could see applications where you send people to different works of art to find hidden features, like people wearing hats, for instance,’ and if you can find three, you win… It’s better than Candy Crush.”

While librarians may say “never judge a book by its cover,” curators caution against judging a painting by its surface. NU-ACCESS plans to give future museum visitors the tools to observe the painting below the surface.

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