“This is a simple but effective use of AR to enhance a museum experience.” —Nathan Martin
“Nice way to add a layer of information/educational content in a museum context.” —Sakchin Bessette
Overview: A pocket guide to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the Henry Ford Connect unlocks powerful new layers of content and empowers visitors to find the objects and stories they’re passionate about. Meant to be a “heads-up” experience, the app quickly guides visitors to real objects rather than offering lengthy content. Audio tours and turn-by-turn directions work while visitors’ devices are in their pockets, and AR content and location-aware search add virtual layers to the museum’s artifacts. The Henry Ford Connect also provides access to a digital membership card to enable members to access benefits across the campus.
The Henry Ford Connect links up with a selection of the Henry Ford’s digital collections, including hundreds of images. With scalability for future exhibitions, the app launched with four audio tours and ten AR experiences.
The app was natively developed with Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android.
Since launch, the Henry Ford Connect has garnered more than 7,500 downloads. Almost half of the users have been between the ages of 35 and 54, with the second-most-engaged demographic being users above the age of 65.
Comments by Bluecadet:
Were there any specific demands that made the project easier or harder? “It was critical that the map and the turn-by-turn directions were as accurate as possible. This location-awareness requirement—and the fact that the Henry Ford Museum already had a beacon system installed—pushed our team technically and required more in-person testing, which ultimately made for a better product. The other requirement, to have an Android version that looked and functioned the same as iOS, also made this project more challenging. AR technology on Android is robust, but on a smaller set of devices—and Android offers far less support than iOS for visualizing and simulating 3-D content.”
Did you encounter any out-of-the-ordinary obstacles during the development process? “Not only is the museum quite large, it’s also full of huge metal objects like trains, planes and automobiles—in short, exactly the type of things that mess up beacon signals. We worked to solve these issues through testing and tweaking, including DIY solutions like pushing around carts of various generations of iPhones and Androids to find bad signals.”
Did you learn anything new during the process? “The Henry Ford Connect taught us a lot about AR—not only more on how to do it but also about what people do and don’t know when it comes to AR. During user testing, we discovered that people didn’t know to move around to activate the experience, but they had no problem with on-screen buttons and UI. So we spent more time onboarding to AR itself rather than our custom interfaces. Similarly, the experience of ‘scanning’ a large object in our prototypes proved foreign to most. Instead of using object detection, we offered a simple illustrated outline, with which visitors triggered AR content by lining it up with the real artifact.”