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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

An Immersion Room includes wall-sized screens on which projections of wallpaper and other coverings can be displayed at full scale. This, too, is enabled by the stylus. A user can create a wallpaper design on a table and store it in the stylus, and then tap the device at an interactive screen to prompt the design to be projected on the wall. Alternatively, the visitor can choose to project a wall-size version of a wallpaper design that he or she has selected from the exhibits (the museum displays small versions of 500 different wall coverings).

Sistelnetworks' vWand is being used to track inventory in health-care and library settings. For the Cooper Hewitt application, however, the device required some modifications, says Serafin Arroyo, Sistelnetworks' marketing director. The vWand traditionally employs Bluetooth technology to transmit read data back to a server, but the museum did not want Bluetooth to be used within an environment in which up to 2,000 people may be using the devices simultaneously. It also needed to add memory in order to store data related to the exhibit tags that are read, and use AAA batteries that would keep the stylus charged longer than rechargeable batteries could allow.

In the Immersion Room, depicted in this rendering, a visitor will be able create a wallpaper design on a table and store that in the stylus, then tap it at an interactive screen to display that design on the wall.
"Sistel did a huge amount of work to redesign the firmware" that managed the read data on the stylus, Chan reports. The company worked closely with General Electric, according to Andrew Crow, GE's global director of brand and design. The GE team comprised individuals from the company's software, aviation and appliances divisions.

"We wanted to design an elegant instrument," says Jennifer Bove, GE's director of brand design. The firm created a smaller form factor, intended to fit in the hands of museum patrons, and including four LED lights and a buzzer that causes the stylus to vibrate, thereby indicating that a read event has been achieved. One LED is dedicated to indicating if the battery is low, while the other three signify that the device is either reading an NFC tag, transmitting information to an NFC reader in a table or screen, or uploading data to be forwarded to the museum's website for later access. "And because it is going to be used by tens of thousands of people," Crow states, "we needed a robustness to it."

To date, the prototype version of the stylus has been completed and the interactive tables will be tested later this month with the stylus.

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