RFID Brings Magic to Harry Potter Exhibition

Published: July 25, 2023

A site in Macau is opening with an RFID component that features a UHF wristband and readers throughout the exhibition, linking visitors with their experiences

Imagine ExhibitionsHarry Potter: The Exhibition is opening an immersive experience at a new site in Macau, leveraging radio frequency identification (RFID) wristbands to enable unique experiences ranging from being located on the Marauder’s Map to making potion and playing Quidditch. The solution centers around UHF RFID wristbands worn by visitors, allowing them to access the “magic” of the event by launching experiences specific to each wearer’s interests. The RFID technology is provided by Stark RFID.

Tom Zaller, Imagine Exhibitions’ President and CEO

Macau will be the most recent site, following others in New York, Paris and Barcelona. At each location, RFID helps to differentiate the exhibitions from other experiences, according to Tom Zaller, the company’s president and CEO. Imagine Exhibitions, based in Atlanta, produces more than 40 unique exhibitions globally at museums, science centers, zoos, integrated resorts and nontraditional venues, and it designs both traveling exhibitions and permanent installations.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition is what the company calls a behind-the-scenes touring experience, launched in February 2022 with four sites that travel around the world. The exhibition features the films and stories of Harry Potter, including the franchise’s Fantastic Beasts spinoffs. It is designed as a way to travel through Harry Potter’s world, and it can be unique to each visitor based on the experience they request. As guests go through their experience, the exhibition provides a variety of surprises and opportunities to engage with magical environments.

First and foremost, Harry Potter: The Exhibition focuses on original props and costumes from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies. Each visitor can choose their virtual wands and their Patronus and select the Hogwarts “house” the represent and then begin a journey through the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The challenge for Imagine Exhibitions and Stark RFID was to create a technology-rich exhibit that would conjure up the world of Harry Potter in a way that was seamless and simple to use.

How the System Works

The guests receive an RFID wristband to allow them to move through the rooms within the exhibit. With each tap of a wristband against a reader, Zaller says, guests could unlock interactive exhibits and individual experiences. “Our goal was to be personalized,” he states, “and the way we chose to do that was with this RFID technology.”

When visitors arrive onsite, they can purchase their tickets. A wristband is the provided to each guest, with a built-in UHF RFID tag encoded with a unique ID number. The tag IDs can be linked in the back-end software to information that the ticketholders provide, such as their names and e-mail addresses, as well as a picture taken of each person onsite. As they enter the show, they can begin tapping their wristbands where instructed.

The first room provides a general overview of the experience, serving as a large-screen media show that reminds users of all the greatest moments of the Harry Potter stories. In addition, wristbands can also be used for individualized play. “We wanted the technology to be integrated so it was behind the scenes,” Zaller explains, with the readers built into boxes on the wall. There are few instructions, he says, except to tap wristbands against the box.

The second room relates to the Marauder’s Map. Visitors encounter a giant digital map consisting of a floor-to-ceiling screen on which plays a video of the map. “Then, all of a sudden,” Zaller says, “you see your name floating on the Marauder’s Map,” providing a moment of surprise and delight. Another area focuses on the four student houses from the Harry Potter franchise: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Players can tap their wristband to win points and interact with each house.

In addition, visitors can interact with a camera that displays them wearing an enchanted, digital sorting hat on top of their head—which, in the films and novels, assigns each student to their respective house, based on their strengths and personality. At the end of the exhibition, visitors will see a leaderboard that shows which house has earned the most points for the day. As each guest leaves the show, content from their visit is then delivered to their e-mail address, based on the RFID reader taps.

Keeping the Solution Simple

“One of our goals from the beginning was to have [the exhibition] be something that anybody could do,” Zaller says. The exhibition’s designers tested the solution with HF RFID, but they needed a longer range and more sensitive reads. UHF, he recalls, proved to be “more consistent and more reliable for what we were doing, and the volume of people that we were moving through.”

By design, Zaller says, the UHF wristbands are only read at close range, to prevent an overflow of data as large volumes of people pass through an area. While UHF typically has a long range of 15 meters (49.2 feet) in some environments, that is not the case with a tag attached to a person’s wrist, since the large volume of water in the human body can reduce transmission range.

The technology’s capability has been evolving as Harry Potter: The Exhibition has been rolled out around the world. For one thing, users can now select their preferred language when they enter. For example, a French speaker could access content in the French language each time they tapped their wristband. Because so many people visit the exhibition sites, some experiences have grown in size to serve large crowds, with many interactive sites, each requiring its own RFID reader.

In that way, visitors can engage with the system simultaneously and still have a personalized experience. Each site has a total of 85 readers, including kiosks at the entrance and read points within the entire facility. Additionally, the RFID technology can manage the movements of guests, as well as gather information such as how long they spend at each interactive point. The exhibition’s operations team can then use the collected data to better monitor and manage flow.

Key Takeaways:

  • RFID enables personalized interactive experiences for those who enter Harry Potter: The Exhibition.
  • The latest site, opening in Macau, will use UHF RFID wristbands for each visitor, with readers deployed at each experience to provide personalized entertainment.