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RFID Locks Up Visitor Interest at Horsens Prison Museum

The Danish museum employs passive HF tags to enable its visitors to learn about the lives of famed or notorious prisoners and guards throughout the 150-year-old prison campus.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 18, 2016

A decade after being shut down, Denmark's Horsens State Prison has reopened as the Horsens Prison Museum, a place where visitors carry RFID tags to link them up with some of the site's 150-year history. The RFID-enabled system was devised and installed by Danish exhibition design company Kvorning Design & Communication. The technology allows visitors to access videos, photographs and information specific to a historical character whom they have selected. In this way, guests not only can see the prison as it looked when it was active, but can also follow the lives of the individuals who spent time there.

The prison closed its doors to inmates in 2006 following a 150-year run as a lockup for the country's worst convicts. A museum opened temporarily at the site in May 2012, at which time guests were able to walk through the prison's cells and see what the facility consisted of, though there were few exhibits related to what life would have been like at the time that the prison was in operation. In May 2015, the 4,000-square-meter (43,000-square-foot) museum launched the RFID system to bring a more vivid experience in the form of "identity trails" enabling visitors to follow the lives of specific jail inmates and guards. Visitors can simply tap cards containing NXP Semiconductors high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz Mifare RFID chips near readers built by Kvorning Design & Communication, using the Arduino open-source electronics platform.

The museum provides an RFID card for each of the 10 characters (former prisoners and guards) about whom a visitor would like to learn more information.
Upon arriving at the museum, visitors each purchase a ticket and choose any of the 10 characters they wish to follow. These characters—former inmates and guards—represent a sampling of the prison's history, such as Carl August Lorentzen, who escaped in 1949 by digging an 18-meter-long (59-foot-long) tunnel to freedom. The museum provides the visitor with an RFID card for each character whom he or she has chosen to follow. In the system, the unique ID number of each character's card has been linked to information that the visitor can access about that individual.

Anne Bjerrekaer, Horsens Prison Museum's director
The museum is intended to replicate the prison's bleak atmosphere. Therefore, illumination is provided by muted fluorescent lights. However, the exhibits use video and audio recordings to create an experience as though some of the prisoners and guards were still onsite. To trigger the playing of specific video and audio content, Kvorning installed RFID readers at a variety of locations throughout the museum. Each character has a total of eight readers dedicated to his story in the prison tour. Visitors place their RFID tags within a few centimeters of each reader in order to activate the display of images and video, by means of 50 laser projectors and approximately 30 touchscreens installed throughout the facility.

At the first stop, visitors can use their RFID cards to view information regarding the character each has selected. The information is provided in a variety of formats. For example, the exhibit presents a green-screen, life-size version of former prisoner Sonny Rasmussen, based on a video in which he discussed the time he spent there. In addition, Dan Karl Christensen maintained a journal while serving his prison term, and the words are "typed out" on the walls, tables and other surfaces, accompanied by the sounds of a typewriter.

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