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I n t ro d u c i n g t h e Te c h n o l o g y
Policy and Organisational Framework
New developments in avatar, agent and guide technologies are definitely changing the
way in which exhibitions will be organised in the future, and how access to these shows
will be provided. Electronic publishing offers additional sources of information, but these
tend to be rather static and passive/non-interactive and the costs of updating the information
are high. Avatar/agent technologies add a social component to virtual exhibitions; they
could, for example, be used for interactive, long-distance storytelling.Their incorporation
into home media servers will dissolve even further the idea of access points and fixed
routes in a cultural heritage institution.
To start employing avatars/agents, a cultural heritage institution should define clearly
what is the real setting and purpose to which they will be put:
- Is there a current virtual exhibition that visitors may like to study, and do visitors or
guides need to be presented as avatars?
- Will one agent accompany every avatar, or will groups of visitors be formed?
- What should the agent look like? What images will appeal most to the visitors
expected at the virtual exhibition? What choices should be offered?
- Would the organisation be able to develop special agents for users with disabilities,
for example using sign language?
- What will be the balance in initiative in leading the tour between the computerised
agent and the human-directed avatar?
- What interface method (trackball, mouse, joystick, touchscreen, haptics) will be best
for controlling the avatars?
- Should the agent's appearance be contemporary to the original timeframe of the
exhibition (if it comes from a definite time period), or to the visitor? Will the user
be more likely to engage with and trust a contemporary agent or a modern one?
- Is the collection setting suitable for the use of robotic avatars?
What Existing Technological Infrastructures are Needed?
The crucial factor when applying avatar and/or agent technology for the first time is
to use it in conjunction with an existing virtual exhibition.The development of a virtual
exhibition itself is a huge task, requiring extensive digitisation, rendering, and processing
work. If the collection already exists in digital form, the primary matter is whether an
agent would contribute towards a better comprehension of the material within it.
The application of an agent into an existing virtual environment will require a certain
amount of effort directed to building routes, supplying the necessary information, and
carrying out tests and evaluation. Such effort should be planned and performed in
collaboration with the collection managers and curators, and IT staff (if the organisation
has any). Initial testing would be best performed in-house, followed by some external
testing with users of various profiles.
Agents with advanced and intelligent user profiling features are still at an experimental
Cultural Agents
and Avatars
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