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Armed With RFID, Star Trek Exhibit Boldly Goes into Museums

Science museums in Ottawa and New York are the first sites to host The Starfleet Academy Experience, using RFID to enable a number of functions and features.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 10, 2016

Fifty years after the first episode of the Star Trek television show aired, two North American museums have opened an exhibition that re-creates the Star Trek experience, with the help of passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz radio frequency identification technology. In early 2015, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, and Austria-based producer EMS Entertainment co-developed the exhibit, known as Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience.

The exhibition is running at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum through September, and at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum through October. EMS then plans to install similar versions of the exhibit at a series of other North American sites, extending into 2017. EMS Entertainment provides the entire experience, including display items and content for the exhibit, as well as technology that includes RFID readers and wristbands.

Visitors can test their ability to fire a phaser at digital targets, and use their RFID wristband to record their scores.
Alex Benay, the president and CEO of the Ottawa museum's parent company, Canada Science and Technology Museums Corp., says he began working with EMS on an interactive exhibit to coincide with the Star Trek TV program's 50th anniversary (the first episode, "The Man Trap," aired on Sept. 8, 1966). Science fiction and science fact are closely related, he explains, and many technologies shown on the TV series 50 years ago have since become a reality (for example, the Bluetooth-enabled headsets now commercially available are similar to the wireless earpiece that Lieutenant Uhura wore on the show).

"We didn't want an artifact-based exhibit," Benay explains. "We wanted something that was cross-generational and that could bring people into the experience." Therefore, his team developed the Starfleet Academy concept so that children and adults alike could test their skills at a variety of exhibits and earn an assignment in Starfleet, based on their perceived strengths.

The Canada Science and Technology Museums Corp.'s Alex Benay
The exhibit is designed to replicate parts of the television show, according to Christoph Rahofer, EMS Entertainment's CEO and executive producer of Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience. Props and costumes from the TV series are on display, says Mike Onysko, the Intrepid museum's marketing VP, and visitors can use RFID-enabled wristbands at seven interactive zones to collect pictures, videos and scores, and to earn their Starfleet membership. RFID readers are installed at each zone, which include a sick bay with a medical tricorder, a planet projection map, holograms and a shooting game using Star Trek phasers. Another RFID-enabled interactive feature is Leap Motion, which uses voice recognition to enable participants to speak with a Klingon (an alien being featured on Star Trek).

Each individual is issued an RFID bracelet that he or she returns at the end of the visit. At a kiosk, the user inputs personal information, including name and e-mail address, to which results can then be sent. That data is linked to the unique ID number encoded on that individual's wristband RFID tag.

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