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Where Can I Learn About RFID's Use in Museums?

Posted By RFID Journal, 11.09.2011
How is the technology being deployed in such settings?

— Hosseini (Yazd, Iran)

Dear Hosseini,

Many museums employ radio frequency identification technologies, and such use falls into several categories. One application involves utilizing RFID to make exhibits more interesting and engaging.

Centre Pompidou, an art museum in Paris, piloted a mobile phone system known as Smart Muse, in order to attract young visitors to its planned Teen Gallery, which opened in October 2010. The pilot helped the museum's management determine how it could use the RFID-enabled mobile phones to best reach young people through the medium to which they are accustomed—social-networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace (see Centre Pompidou Hopes NFC Will Draw Teens to Art).

Bill Nye's Climate Lab, at the Chabot Space & Science Center, located in Oakland, Calif., strives to educate visitors about the most pressing environmental problems, and employs radio frequency identification to help it achieve that goal. The lab's 12 RFID-enabled exhibits, which convey to visitors the basic science of climate change, identify two of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions (transportation and buildings), as well as promising technologies being implemented to combat climate change. Some exhibits require visitors to move handles or pumps in order to see how systems work, whereas others ask them to respond to polls or quizzes, and still others are merely informative (see Chabot Space & Science Center Uses RFID to Teach Environmental Science).

In 2004, the Museum of Natural History, in Aarhus, Denmark, introduced a solution that uses RFID to educate and entertain visitors. Dubbed TaggedX, the project enabled the real-time delivery of information for an exhibition titled "Flying." The project's team mounted an RFID tag next to each of the exhibit's 50 stuffed birds. Embedded with an I-Code RFID chip from Philips Semiconductors (now NXP Semiconductors), each tag contained a unique factory-programmed serial number associated with text, quizzes, and audio and video clips—all stored in a central database—regarding the bird to which the tag was paired (see Museum Puts Tags on Stuffed Birds).

Museums are also utilizing Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies to disseminate information to patrons. The Museum of London and Nokia recently began testing a system using NFC RFID tags at its two facilities, to provide vouchers, exhibit information, reservations and other data to users equipped with NFC-enabled phones (see London History Museum Adopts Technology of Future). At the front desks of both museums, visitors will now see an NFC label, provided by Nokia (which also supplied the installation), attached to a colorful placard indicating that visitors, by tapping an NFC-enabled phone against the tag, can join the museum's "Friends Scheme." The scheme provides users with access to special events, unlimited free entry to special exhibits, a Friends museum magazine and a 20 percent discount in the museum's gift shop.

In addition, museums are using RFID to track valuable relics or art, and to monitor their condition. In 2009, traveling exhibits manager Arts and Exhibition International employed the technology to protect the treasure of King Tutankhamun's tomb as the artifacts were displayed at locations worldwide. The system is presently traveling with the "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" exhibit. If display cases are tampered with while on display, video images from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system are instantly displayed in the museum's security office, museum staff members receive alerts on their pagers, and an audible alarm inside the gallery warns the perpetrator that the system has been triggered (see RFID Protects Tut's Treasures).

Over the next three to four years, the National Museum, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, plans to tag a million relics, as well as the shelves used to store them. The Department of Museums Malaysia (DMM), which manages more than 20 museums around that country, sought the application to help it become more efficient in managing them, and to better identify and track articles of clothing, ceramics, weapons and works of art on display. Many relics are kept in humidity- and temperature-controlled vaults beneath the museums. These artifacts are often shared among museums, and the RFID system will help track such loans (see RFID Helps Malaysian Museums Track Artifacts).

Finall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), in New York City, is employing battery-powered RFID sensor tags to gather and analyze data regarding the physical environment in which its artwork is displayed. Its goal is to eventually use that information to monitor changing conditions, and to subsequently adjust climate controls within its facility. Initially, the system is only collecting data about conditions around the art (see NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art Adopts RFID).

If you search for "museum" on our site, you will find other interesting articles.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor,
RFID Journal

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