Skybox AR combines visual graphics, Augmented Reality and the magic of storytelling to create immersive environments to help us enjoy and have an interactive learning experience at museums.
You can download the Skybox AR app for Android and the AR Markers by using this link. Here is a little secret: Try printing the markers and place them on the floor. Use the app in an open room so you can move around freely and have a better experience.
Our goal is to create a mobile app that help museums integrate augmented reality experiences in order to foster education and enhance a visitor's experience at museums. We are three friends who met at a international school called UWC-USA. Now, each of us is studying in our respective universities and decided to start this project together. Each of us brings different types of skills to the team. Now, with the support of the Manchester Museum we have been able to make a lot progress on Skybox.
Ultimately we have been inspired by museums themselves. We believe that they have a lot to share, they have so many cool artifacts and stories. Yet, the number of people going to museums has declined over the past couple of years in the UK. We want to change this with Skybox, as there is a true learning experience to have at museums.
Imagine you walk in the Manchester Museum. Once at the dinosaur exhibit, you scan the AR Marker with the Skybox app. Your phone recognizes the exhibit and takes you into a 60 seconds augmented reality animaion that will let you discover how this creature lived, moved and looked millions of years ago.
Our main goal is to create a simple and systematic way that we can add interactivity to galleries and exhibits and at the same time allow the visitor to learn about them. Therefore, we started by meeting with museums in Manchester (Jang and Luigi) and Rotterdam (Ludovic) to understand their needs and limitations regarding implementation of technology in their galleries. Afterwards, our team had a brainstorming session in which we discussed possible solutions that could help museums. We made a list of all the ideas we had and narrowed them down to the core features that will bring value to the user. These can be found in the following section.
SkyboxOne has three core features: Augmented Reality, Interactivity and Storytelling.
It has been proven that technology can improve the ability of individuals to understand core concepts by more than 30%. AR is also fun, it allows you to have a real experience with something that may have died many years ago for example. We started by testing the ARkit and the ARCore. After a few days of testing, we decided to stick with the ARCore, as both developers have worked with Android apps in the past. We use the image recognition feature available with ARCore.
Museums have a really hard time to adapt to change, while everything around us has been improved due to technology, museums have stalled. This is mostly due to the fact that creating a new exhibit is both expensive and timely. However during our testing stage we learnt that just implementing AR experiences was not enough for the visitor. Therefore, we decided to integrate the possibility to rotate the object and a magical interaction by pressing the "Glowing Skybox". Thus, with Skybox AR we aim to offer interactivity of a new exhibit, by exploring surroundings, creatures, places, planets, and anything else through this cool and interactive technology.
The final feature we want to add to Skybox is a story. We want to provide a complete experience and there is no better way to do that than by inserting the users into the story itself. This is done through well-designed animations, and thoughtfully written audio to accompany it. We want this story to be both immersive but also interesting, so that we can further stimulate learning. Now anyone can become the first person to go to mars!
Note: We tested Audio Spatializers but from our testing stage we learned that users prefer not to use earphones when using AR. However, we are considering the possibilities to implement it in future expansion with VR
Tools and resources used
Built with Unity 2018.2.15
Google ARCore 1.5
NASA 3D Resources Link
Used Maya for final details regarding lighting and textures
Used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to design UI elements and AR Markers
Audio was edited with Premiere
Google AR Core
To start with, we tested both, Google ARCore and Apple ARKit. As it was our first time developing an AR app, we wanted to understand all the possibilities available. Finally, we decided to use ARCore as both developers in our team had previously developed Android apps. We started by understanding the code, making some sample scenes and finally creating our own code (Jang). We used various core tools from ARCore such as plane finder and image recognition.
NASA Website: Saturn V , Mars Habitat Unit, Mars Explorer Vehicle.
3D Models T.Rex , Sperm Whale and Mars Rover (Team)
AR Markers: all designed in house to best fit the app style (Team).
UI elements: Designed by Luigi.
Audio: was recorded and edited by he team members Luigi and Ludovic.
Our project outline consisted in the following main stages:
Learning about AR in Unity
Understanding the museum's needs
Design and build a prototype
Testing prototype and learn from users
Iterate the prototype
Below we showcase part of the process:
Here we show the initial results from or testing stage.
Focus Group Test
In order to test functionality and user experience we ran group tests with the support of the University of Manchester Museums. These focus group tests were very successful and have shown exciting results. Overall, we learn how to run customer interviews and analyze user behaviour to fully understand how can e offer the most value to the visitors. Then, using the information we had collected we went to the board and re-design the experience. We repeated the process three times, until we reached a point in which we felt that the app was ready for a pilot test (current version).
During the focus groups explained above, we learned a lot about our app and our users. Among all findings, the most relevant was that our initial UX was too complex as the user had to select each experience based on the exhibit they were at. Most of visitors ended up not finding the experience or simply selecting the wrong one. This made re-think completely the user expereience. We considered implementing NFC tags, QR codes, or simply buttons. Instead we decided to use the Image recognition capabilities of Google ARCore. Now the user just has to scan the marker and immerse in the experience.
Luigi is from Spain. He mainly focuses on the UI and UX of the application, animations and visuals. He also helps running the focus groups.
Jang is from Luxembourg. He works on the Augmented Reality implementation and general development of the app.
Ludovic de Bruyn
Ludovic, from Belgium mostly focuses on marketing, museum communication, and manage the focus groups testing.
How are we different from other AR media providers?
We focus on three specific aspects which make us different from other providers, these are:
Platform for Museums: By just focusing on museums we are able to fully understand their needs and create the best experience for them. Also, by using the Skybox platform we are able to lower development costs for museums while maintaining the quality.
Focus on museum's exhibits: Our goal is to enhance the experience at the current exhibits museums already have. For example our AR animation includes personalized storytelling related to that specific museum exhibit.
More than just at the Museum: Skybox primarily focuses on the experience one can get at the museum. However, because users have their own devices they can bring the experience to their homes and keep learning outside the museum.
What is next? - Exciting things are coming!
We are currently working on improving the storytelling of a few experiences and release the first version of the app in late February. Moreover, we are working on testing effectiveness of VR experiences andd possibly integrating them in the app. Furthermore, we have been contacted by a few museums in the area. Therefore, our goal is to implement Skybox AR in a total of five museums this year.