The San Diego Air & Space Museum will launch a new program this month that allows people to explore the museum virtually, using robots.
The museum's BEAM Virtual Tour Program uses a mobile, interactive robot called Beam Pro, which allows people to virtually explore the museum through a Smart Presence Device (SPD) that moves, sees and speaks in real-time, the museum's spokesman David Neville said.
Suitable Technologies manufactured the SPD with a 17-inch flat screen that displays the user’s face on a stand that's about five feet tall and one-foot wide. The device includes two wide-angle cameras with zoom capability, a front loud speaker and noise-canceling microphones.
Neville said the program is designed to make the San Diego Air & Space Museum more accessible for everyone, no matter where they are located, by offering a highly-realistic viewing experience of the space in an hour, from even the comfort of one's home.
“A large number of people who, for a variety of reasons -- geographic, economic, inability to leave their host institution, learners with special needs, hospitalized, bedridden -- will benefit greatly from having interactive access to the Museum and its collections,” said Neville
These BEAM tours will launch this month. For now, they're being offered one day a week on a first-come, first-serve basis. Virtual visitors can register online here.
Museum guests access the Beam Pro from any PC or laptop using arrow keys or a mouse to control its movements, according to Neville. They can even have conversations with other visitors or museum staffers who provide expert information on artifacts.
“What differentiates this program from audio tours and virtual tours is the BEAM technology allows for an independent and interactive experience through a self-determined path,” said Neville. “Virtual visitors are able to interact with an in-house guide or docent as they explore the galleries, seeing artifacts as clearly as if they were at the Museum.”
NBC Universal supported the BEAM Virtual Tour program with a 21st Century Solutions grant. Neville said this grant helped launch the free program. Similar programs are successfully underway at the Seattle Museum of Art, the de Young Museum and the University of Dakota.