After COVID-19, how can we design and future-proof healthier AV for museums and entertainment venues?

By Brandy Alvarado, Mad Systems.

I’ve been a bit quiet during this period of social distancing. I’ve been thinking of how AV will endure after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. It’s made me reflect on a few things in terms of how we approach AV, and how some of us in the industry have been truly preparing for this for some time now.

I work with a team of talented engineers that build and innovate all sorts of amazing things. We design with many considerations in mind. But one that is at critical mass now is the safety of the staff and patrons.

woman in face mask

During my time of reflection, I have realized how we can continue our work to future-proof AV for the museum and entertainment communities, and there are a number of ways we can work together to keep them safe.

Future-proofing AV experiences after COVID-19

At the time of writing, we’ve learned how the coronavirus is potentially spread. When a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus by up to 25′. These droplets settle on surrounding surfaces.

The virus can also be spread by various other methods. People touching a surface or object and shedding the virus has become a major concern. We now understand that touching our faces is a big no-no. But beyond that, touching contaminated surfaces is the other scary scenario that lends to catching the virus.

woman wearing virtual reality VR goggles - what AV tech will we use after covid-19?

Most venues want to create interactives and exhibits that use a touch experience. Some even consider using VR with goggles. After learning about how COVID-19 spreads, who still wants to touch an AV exhibit, or wear VR goggles that could potentially be contaminated? I, for one, am tapping out on both of those types of experiences.

Facial Recognition

What if, for AV experiences after COVID-19, you didn’t have to touch or wear goggles? What if you could be recognized as you enter an exhibit area, or interactive? How about touchless solutions for times when touch-based interactivity is a little scary?

Facial Recognition is a great solution for when you’re looking to design a non-touch experience. These futuristic contactless personalizations of exhibits are available and deployable now for a wide range of venues. For example, museums, stores, signage/advertising, theme parks, visitor centres and a whole host of other applications.

facial recognition illustration

Wouldn’t it be ideal to target media delivery for whatever age or experience level you want to address without having touch or even use audio tour headsets? In essence, you can create a healthier experience by using facial recognition to alleviate the possibility of germs and cross-contamination.

It is clear that a facial recognition system must be designed with privacy and ethics foremost in mind.  They should be primary design drivers. Although we can see applications where some data just has to be kept for the system to be useful, data protection should remain paramount along with your patron’s safety and health.

Facial recognition technology is less worrisome when it comes to privacy than the new apps that will track us to make sure that we can cope with contamination hotspots when we get to the tail-end of these events. They’re already alive in other countries and regarded as a major aid in preventing the spread of the virus.

Safe immersive experiences

Gesture play and immersive experiencesImmersive experiences without VR headsets are possible as well. These allow for a much safer AV experience after COVID-19, with a vastly reduced chance of spreading viruses.

You can literally turn any room into an immersive environment that does not need to be touched by using projection mapping techniques. Consider the use of non-touch sensors, gesture-based and other non-contacting methods to activate the experience. Rooms can be considered infinite pixel canvases that allow for our wildest imaginations to flourish.

Let’s talk about opportunities to create better exhibits that respond to people, and where touch is optional. I’ve noted a number of unique experiences using motion sensors.

For instance, a venue gave my team an old 50’s car radio. They wanted us to make it come alive and work. We outfitted the car with a number of proximity switches and beam breaks as triggers so that when a person sits in the car the radio starts to play a tune. That is just one instance of a way to trigger a simple experience without having to touch anything. This is applicable to a variety of settings.

AV hygiene after COVID-19

But what about all those touch screen monitors? Yes, they can be cleaned, but how often do you think staff get a chance to clean them in a high-traffic venue? And if they can clean after every “touch”, what does that do to the integrity of the screen?

After a time, that glass on the monitors can break down, and the screen loses its colourimetry. What if you could create a near-touch or capacitive experience using those same monitors and applying an IR bezel proud of the screen?

We might see more AV experiences without touch after COVID-19

You wouldn’t have the need to “touch” it, just get close enough to break the plane of the IR Bezel. Creating the same experience with less of a yuck-factor is so much better for staff and patrons as well.

So, as we sit quarantined with thoughts of spicing up our museum exhibits, and AV interactives dancing in our heads, let me ask you what you intend to do to future-proof and safeguard your institutions post-COVID-19? I hope that you will take these ideas into serious consideration.

I’m happy to chat about ways to design experiences that delight patrons while keeping them safe. Stay well and safe my friends, and wear masks to protect yourself and others.