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At Cooper Hewitt Museum, Visitors to Become Designers With NFC

The museum, located in New York City, is developing an NFC-based solution for its renovated exhibits at Carnegie Mansion that will allow visitors to create their own digital designs.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 22, 2014

When the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopens at Manhattan's Andrew Carnegie Mansion at the end of this year, visitors are expected to get to work designing. The renovated museum will distribute a device containing an electronic drawing implement with a stylus on one side and a Near Field Communication (NFC) reader on the other. Visitors can use the device to capture information and patterns from exhibits identified by NFC labels, and to then send the pattern to an interactive screen, enabling them to use the stylus to add to the design. The guests can then share their creations with friends via e-mail or social media.

The NFC-enabled stylus, created by a team of technology companies, is based on the vWand, developed by Sistelnetworks. General Electric (GE) worked as part of an industrial design team to make modifications to the unit, led by New York consulting firm Undercurrent. The resulting device is smaller and includes such additions as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a buzzer to alert users when an NFC tag has been read. The team also boosted the unit's battery life and gave it a more robust enclosure.

Sebastian Chan, Cooper Hewitt's director of digital and emerging media
Undercurrent is leading the RFID project. This includes selecting vendors and managing the design team.

The museum will reopen in December following a three-year hiatus for the renovation and restoration of the 64-room Carnegie Mansion, located on East 91st Street and bordering Fifth Ave. The National Design Library, which had been located at the Carnegie Mansion, was moved to two adjacent townhouses on East 90th Street, which will now be part of the completed and renovated museum. The facility offers historic and contemporary design to an audience that includes professional designers, students, teachers, children and the general public.

The renovation, which began in 2010, gives the museum the opportunity not only to grow within its space (by adding more exhibits), but also to become more technologically savvy, according to Caroline Baumann, the museum's director. "Why is this taking three years? We took this opportunity to pause," she says, "to find ways to transform the museum and make it a place where people are fully engaged and participating."

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