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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

The new museum's focus, Baumann explains, is to provide something more than a place in which visitors passively view exhibits to learn about home and interior design and its history. Instead, she says, Cooper Hewitt intends to make designers out of everyone who enters. Part of that planning led the museum to embrace NFC technology.

Upon arrival, each visitor will pay an entrance fee and receive a ticket and the NFC-enabled stylus. A bar-coded ID number, printed on the ticket, will be paired with the unique ID transmitted by the RFID reader built into the stylus. A URL, also printed on the ticket, will enable the user to later open an account and view drawings that he or she created during the visit.

Caroline Baumann, the museum's director (Photo: Erin Baiano)
According to Sebastian Chan, Cooper Hewitt's director of digital and emerging media, NFC labels made with NXP Semiconductors' NTAG203 chips are affixed to, or near, objects—such as wallpapers, lighting fixtures, furniture or vases—throughout the museum. The labels are being provided by a combination of vendors, based on the form factor required for each exhibit. When a visitor taps the RFID reader side of the stylus near an NFC label, the reader interrogates its tag ID and stores the collected data in that stylus' memory.

The museum will also be equipped with approximately 15 tables, each containing an embedded touchscreen. Some screens measure 55 inches, while others measure 84 inches. All are high-definition.

A prototype of the NFC-enabled drawing stylus
At any of these tables or screens, users can utilize the device's stylus end on the table and sketch some designs, following patterns if they wish. They can also turn over the stylus and touch its NFC reader against the table, prompting the device's reader to communicate with the Sistelnetworks reader built into the table. The system will then capture the data stored in the stylus' memory, linking that information with the sketches on the screen. This will enable users to, for example, create a specific wallpaper in their drawing, based on the patterns they selected while viewing the exhibits.

Once finished creating designs, a visitor indicates on the screen that he or she is done, and the design is then uploaded to the museum's server via a USB connection, so that the guest can later access it via the URL printed on the ticket, or forward it to selected social-media sites. This USB connection is an alternative to the vWand's traditional Bluetooth connection. In this case, Chan says, the crowded environment of wands would make it difficult to capture Bluetooth data from a single stylus as requested by a user.

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