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Milanese Art Museum Uses RFID to Attract a Younger Audience

The Ambrosiana Art Gallery is a showcase for Near Field Communication technology, with RFID tags mounted near artwork, as well as NFC-enabled mobile phones for accessing related information and services.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 03, 2012The Ambrosiana Art Gallery, located in Milan, is one of the premiere Italian museums, featuring more than 1,400 sketches, drawings and masterpieces created by Leonardo da Vinci, as well as manuscripts, models, drawings and paintings from several other renowned Italian artists. Until recently, visitors looking to learn about the exhibits had to read small placards describing the work, or listen to audio players via a headset. In October of this year, however, the museum began providing RFID-enabled smartphones that guests can utilize to learn about each work of art, as well as save a list of pieces they like, for use at the museum's store when seeking prints for sale.

The solution, created by Mobile People, employs Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tags attached to the gallery's walls, in addition to Samsung NFC-enabled mobile phones. Mobile People intends for the solution to serve as part of a series of NFC installations throughout Milan, in anticipation of the 2015 Expo Milan. The exposition focuses on new technology that meets its theme, "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life," as well as cultural traditions and creativity, and how they relate to food and diet. The expo's organizers selected NFC to be among the technologies highlighted that can enable access to information and services, including mobile payments. With that NFC theme in mind, companies that provide the technology are preparing to showcase what it can do in a variety of venues.


Giancarlo Maria Cesco Frare, Mobile People's CEO, demonstrates how visitors to Ambrosiana Art Gallery can use RFID-enabled phones to access information about the works on display.

Giancarlo Maria Cesco Frare, Mobile People's CEO, says his company, together with Ambrosiana's management, opted to install a solution that visitors could use at the museum. Mobile People developed a system consisting of NFC tags attached to the walls on which pieces of art are mounted, with an ID number on each tag linked to data regarding a particular item. The museum has installed 55 passive 13.56 MHz tags provided by Bologna RFID firm Lab ID for its main pieces of art, including those by da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Titian. The tag's ID number is linked to information stored in the gallery's back-end system, related to each piece of work. In addition, Samsung donated its Galaxy S3 mobile phones to the museum for use in reading the tags.

During the first week following the system's installation, visitors paid no fee to utilize the phones. Since then, however, each guest has been charged €3 ($4) to use the system. When a visitor holds the phone next to one of the 55 NFC tags, the phone reads its ID number, thereby triggering a display of data on the phone's screen, including information about the artist, his life, how that work ended up at the gallery, techniques used to create it and pictures of the artist. This information can be presented in either Italian or English.

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