AARNet infrastructure underpinned an Australian government-funded CSIRO and National Museum of Australia (NMA) partnership to develop and trial technology to allow remote visitors to take a virtual tour of a museum using a mobile telepresence robot and a broadband Internet connection.
CSIRO developed the technology and installed a system that enables students and teachers in regional Australia to participate in live, immersive, interactive, guided tours of the NMA from a computer in their school or local library.
For several years, the robot operated in seven galleries encompassing the history and culture of Australia from the early years to the present. The system consisted of a semi-autonomous mobile robot which accompanied a museum educator through the gallery and streamed panoramic video from an omni-directional camera via the museum’s Wi-Fi network.
Using a standard PC, headset, web-camera, and broadband Internet connection using the AARNet network to and from the NMA, remote students were able to log in and use a browser-based interface to look around the gallery by panning and zooming within the panoramic image.
Students clicked on highlighted objects within their field of view to explore additional digital content associated with those objects, and were challenged to respond to real-time quizzes posed by the educator.
The students could see, hear, and interact with the educator and other students via a video-chat system that was integrated into the browser-based interface.
At the program's launch event in 2013, the robot took students from remote sites on an interactive virtual tour around the National Museum’s Landmarks gallery, home to Phar Lap’s heart among other treasures.
The robot’s mobile telepresence technology enabled real-time interaction between the students, the National Museum educator and an expert at the Melbourne Museum where another piece of Phar Lap resides. A 360 degree panoramic camera allowed students to interact with the exhibits independently using their browsers.
The students talked directly to the museum educator and used various interactive elements such as polling, answering multiple choice questions, clicking on additional content and also individually used the camera to look at different objects.
Kiama Primary School students connected to the robot from individual computers located at Kiama Library, while a classroom of students at the Cathedral School in Townsville connected from a Smart Board.
"The experience for the students at each of the remote sites was a little different, but what this demonstrates is that if a broadband connection is available, the technology is adaptable for different environments and school resources," said NMA Special Projects Manager Robert Bunzli.
The system also incorporated a management interface for museum staff to plan and book tours, and for curators to upload digital content and link it to objects on display in the gallery.
Overcoming the limitations of existing technologies
This mobile telepresence system was leading-edge technology at the time, overcoming the limitations of existing one-to-one systems by using a panoramic video camera system, an innovative network architecture that scales, and the high-speed broadband provided by the AARNet network. This combination of elements allowed multiple connections from outside the museum to the robot (currently up to sixteen simultaneous connections).
In late 2014, AARNet and NMA announced a new partnership to develop and extend the reach of the Museum Robot program.
The partnership made the NMA’s unique immersive virtual tours available to AARNet-connected schools as well as teacher training programs across Australia.
AARNet actively supports projects that bring high quality content providers, researchers and schools together to create new teaching and learning experiences using the latest technologies.