Bluetooth LE Beacons for galleries and museums

Ben Howden /

There’s no doubt that Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons and iBeacon are currently creating a huge amount of buzz in the technology world. If you’re still catching up on all the hype, BLE beacons are small wireless devices that broadcast tiny radio signals. Nearby smartphones can listen for the signals and can then exchange data to trigger events within a mobile application. This opens up a range of exciting opportunities to connect the physical world with digital experiences across a range of different industries.

We’ve already talked about how BLE beacons are set to change the future of retail, but today I want to review how this new technology can be applied to the world of galleries, museums and exhibitions.

Only last year I took my first trip to the Musee du Louvre in Paris and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what was on offer. Without a guide or a proper plan in place it’s easy to find yourself aimlessly wondering through the halls not quite knowing where you’ll find yourself next. To make life easier, we decided to rent a couple of museum audio guides that were provided on a customised Nintendo 3DS XL. After queuing up for 15 minutes we finally got hold of our audio guides at a cost of 5 euros each.

The audio guides contain over 35 hours of audio content, 700 descriptions of galleries and artworks and interactive mapping to guide you on your journey through the Louvre. Yet for all that was on offer through the audio guides the experience was largely a disappointing one.  Presumably the guides use wireless signals to triangulate your position within the museum and serve up relevant content. However, on too many occasions we were unable to locate information on nearby artworks, and the devices mapping and directions were extremely difficult to interpret.  Not to mention that the Nintendo has a clunky interface and the responsiveness of the device was far from satisfactory.

Now let me paint a picture of how BLE beacons can now transform the digital experience on offer at the Louvre. Prior to visiting the museum, you download the official Louvre mobile app, enter your credit card details and pre purchase your tickets to avoid the hour-long queues at the entrance. You browse from a range of different in app tours and select the ones that interest you the most. You connect your Facebook account and automatically see a list of your friends that have visited the Louvre before, and can also see which artworks or pieces were their favourites. And all of this happens before you even leave your hotel.

As you walk towards the iconic pyramid outside the Louvre, a beacon placed at the entrance emits a signal that is picked up by your smartphone. The app automatically recognises that you’re moving towards the entrance and presents your tickets on screen ready for scanning.

As you move closer to the entrance, you receive a notification from the app letting you know that one of your friends is in the area and gives you the option to message them via the app.

As you scan your electronic tickets at the entrance, another beacon recognises that you’re now inside and you are immediately presented with your pre-selected tours along with directions to the nearest toilets and the cafeteria. You opt for the Masterpieces Tour and hit the go button on the app to get started. The app interface springs into action and you’re presented with a virtual tour guide who gives you a brief overview of one of the Louvre’s most prestigious galleries along with some of its most famous artworks.

Using beacons located throughout the venue, the app is able to triangulate your exact location at all times and present mapping along with turn by turn directions. It’s like having your own miniature sat-nav guiding you through the halls of the Louvre. You’re promptly directed to first floor of the Denon wing where your Masterpieces Tour will begin.

Next you find yourself standing in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and again your device burst to life, displaying information about the sculpture, a short video of its history and related essays and interviews. You click the social tab on the app and you can instantly see which if your friends have stood in front of the same piece and what they thought of it. Or you can scroll through the countless comments from the thousands of visitors who have previously shared their thoughts on the famous sculpture. As you marvel at the Greek goddess you click favourite and leave a short comment yourself before moving onto the next piece.

This type of data collection adds a whole social layer over your experience of the Louvre. Not only can you muse over and interpret pieces yourself, but you can see the collective thoughts of the community as well as quickly identify the most popular works within the walls of the museum.

After a few hours you’ve completed the Masterpieces Tour, which has been seamlessly augmented by nothing more than a smartphone app and a collection of BLE beacons strategically placed around the Louvre. You decide to call it a day and as you are directed towards the exit by the app you decide to pop into the nearby bookstore and pick yourself up a memento. The app instantly recognises that you’ve entered the bookstore, cross references the pieces you’ve favourite from your tour and suggests some books that you might like along with their location in the store. You pick up a copy of The Art of the Italian Renaissance and your credit card is automatically debited as you tap your phone on the beacon at the counter.

Long after you have left the Louvre the memories of your visit live on within the app. When friends ask you what your visit was like, you can pull out the app and show them your favourite pieces along with a map that details your route through the museum.

I hope the example outlined above inspires museums and galleries around the world to rethink how they can use technology and beacons to enhance the visitor experience. If you get the execution right, the rewards can be tremendous.

If you would like to discuss how Lighthouse and beacons can take your visitor experience to the next level then get in touch with us.