| 5 December, 2018

Burpee Augmented Reality Museum App Brings History to Life


Trekk recently teamed up with the Burpee Museum of Natural History on a truly historic project: a mobile app that brings the museum’s collections to life through augmented reality.

Burpee is the home of Jane, the world’s most complete and best-preserved juvenile T. rex; Homer, a “teenaged” Triceratops; and Pearl, a newly found Oviraptor. The museum features extensive paleontology collections, as well as exhibits on the history of Native Americans in North America, the wildlife of the Rock River Valley, and more.

Now, these exhibits are more interactive than ever and can be explored from anywhere in the world.

Burpee Museum: The App

The new Burpee Museum app makes it possible for the public to interact with Burpee’s exhibits in a whole new way, all thanks to the rapidly evolving technology of augmented reality. Augmented reality uses a device, usually a smartphone or tablet, to augment the real world — to add an extra layer on the viewer’s physical surroundings. This extra layer of reality can be used to immerse the user in an altered, hybrid environment.

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In the case of the Burpee Museum app, these extra layers consist of 3D historical and natural artifacts such as a beaver skull, a T. rex claw, and a Hopi Kachina doll. To use the app, simply choose which fossil or artifact you want to examine — let’s go with a dinosaur jaw — and launch the experience. Point your device’s camera at a flat surface such as a table and the dinosaur jaw will appear, as if it is right there in your physical space.

augmented reality experience

Rotate the dinosaur jaw to examine it from all sides. Make it bigger, make it smaller, or study it at scale. Read about its history, where it was discovered, and what we can learn about the natural world from it. Then, snap a photo of the dinosaur jaw in your environment and share your natural history knowledge with others.

Now, Burpee can bring its exhibits to classrooms, summer camps, and living rooms around the world, making these artifacts accessible to learners everywhere.

A First-of-its-Kind Museum App Experience

What makes the Burpee Museum app even more unique is that it offers two different types of augmented reality experiences. Not only can the app be used to explore artifacts from anywhere in the world using markerless augmented reality, but it also includes marker-based AR experiences within the walls of the Burpee Museum. Museum visitors can use the app’s AR viewer to unlock special bonus content in each exhibit.

AR in Burpee

Fun fact: the Burpee Museum app is one of the first commercial apps to incorporate two different forms of AR in one app!

This app is also one of the first apps on the market to use the new USDZ file format, a format co-created by Apple and Pixar specifically for augmented reality and announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year. We used Apple’s augmented reality SDK, ARKit 2, to create the Burpee Museum app and continue to be thrilled at how promising this technology is, even at this relatively early stage, for museum and education applications.

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Augmented Reality and Museums

A handful of other museums have begun experimenting with augmented reality, most notably the Smithsonian, whose Skin & Bones exhibit is enhanced with AR. Smithsonian visitors can use the museum’s app to overlay skin and movement onto the skeletons in the Bone Hall to experience the animals when they were alive.

Jane the Dinosaur

Photo credit: Burpee Museum of Natural History

We predicted back in 2017 that education would be one of the three fastest-growing applications of augmented reality (along with healthcare and navigation) because augmented reality in settings like museums and schools is actually useful. As educators continue to explore the possibilities of AR, we believe that museum goers will not only accept but will come to expect a certain level of interactivity in exhibits. Being able to explore the museum from anywhere in the world, though, is a serious gamechanger — the potential reach of our top learning institutions is on its way to being limitless. Even today, all you need is a smartphone with an Internet connection to experience the collections at the Burpee Museum. It’s only a matter of time before other museums follow suit.

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Launching the App

Burpee debuted the app at its Spark Innovation Cocktail Party, a night of behind-the-scenes looks at the latest and greatest Burpee developments for museum guests and donors. The Trekk team behind the app was on hand to show off the technology and answer questions about AR. The app demonstration created a ton of excitement and elicited audible gasps from the crowd.

Photos from Burpee launch event

Now, the app is officially public! Download the Burpee Museum app to experience Burpee’s collections via augmented reality for yourself, and plan your next visit to the museum to unlock bonus AR content in person.

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