The Contribution of Mixed Reality to Cultural Heritage during the pandemic

The global health emergency caused by the Covid-19 virus, in addition to having generated a profound impact on the industrial sector of our country and in the rest of the world, has profoundly affected a sector that in Italy is worth 13% of GDP, it is tourism.

The estimated crisis and post-crisis losses are in billions of euros and are mainly caused by limitations on travel, especially international ones, and by the rules of social distancing which will constitute a brake on prosperity of the tourism and cultural heritage sector which employs 15% of the overall Italian workers.

The Italian cultural sector will have to deal with a 2020 that will see a drop in the number of visitors from abroad throughout the year, which in our country represent 50.3% of the total.
So at least initially we will focus on domestic tourism, since even the Italians who would have traveled abroad will likely look with greater interest to the domestic offer.

In addition to dealing with the obvious losses in turnover that will affect the tourism sector, both in Italy and in the rest of the world, operators and managers of cultural heritage, are beginning to realize that the main road to overcome the crisis is that of “digital transformation”. Thanks to these solutions, it will be possible to make cultural heritage available to everyone, including tourists who cannot travel. The digital solutions will, in fact, lead institutions towards a phase of renewal in which the transformation of flows and the availability of more tools will allow to create more sustainable and higher quality models.

In some use cases the immersive technologies, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, have shown not only to be able to overcome the problem of remote use, but also to have the ability to enrich the visiting experience with content and information normally not available.

Here are some possibilities for operators of museum structures and sites of interest in general:

  • Digitization of the exhibition spaces
    It is a photogrammetric or laser scanner reconstruction of the real spaces of places such as museums. This activity allows you to create a digital version of the museum, on which various types of experiences can be grafted, from browsing the environments, in Google Streetview style, to enabling multimedia points of interest with voice, video or simply narrations associated. This type of use case can be made usable by both web browsers and mobile applications.
  • Virtual Reality Routes
    This use case involves the artificial reconstruction of spaces, in their current state or in a state that corresponds to a different historical period. It is mainly used when you want to show content and routes related to sites that have been lost in whole or in part. This category includes some of the stages of the Circo Maximo Experience project, through which you can relive the chariot races in ancient Rome.
  • Mixed Reality Routes
    To make the most of digital content and apply it not only to the virtual context, but also to the physical assets available within a site of interest, Mixed Reality techniques are used, they exploit the coexistence of VR and AR, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in reconstructions anchored to real objects (e.g. ruins), and to view completely artificial contents. The result can be obtained both by using Mixed Reality headsets and mobile devices, even the latter, in fact, with dedicated technologies, are able to perform very well object recognition and tracking.
  • Simple Digital Routes
    One possibility that does not contemplate the use of immersive technologies, but which still allows a light digitization of the visit experience, is the creation of applications that provide digital access to content, presenting it in traditional ways, such as image galleries, video and audio narrations.

In conclusion, the digitization process of entities operating in the cultural heritage sector can only be accelerated due to the Coronavirus emergency, but the road has already been traced by a series of successful experiences, both in Italy and abroad.

The advantage for operators in the sector is therefore to facilitate access to the sites of interest at a time when these will be subject to rules that will provide for the quota of entrances, social distancing and the use of personal protection devices. The digital experience can to some extent make up for the drop in turnover that operators will most likely face this season and we do not rule out even in the years to come.

This post is also available in: Italian