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Mobile Access to
Cultural Information
From museum corridors to city streets, the case studies contained in this section cover a
range of approaches and purposes made possible by the development of portable devices.
The ultra-futuristic, sociological ambitions of Urban Tapestries are in contrast to the
more modest and practical educational aims of the Handscape and MUSEpad projects.
Scenarios presented examine eTourism, preservation, and personalisation.
An Introduction to the Technology
We begin with three questions:
- How can we make a cultural collection available from anywhere and at any time?
- How can we match the user with his/her ideal guide?
- What form/format will these ideal guides take?
Wireless access, combined with handheld digital devices, may provide the technologies
underlying a solution to these questions. In future it will allow users to access informa-
tional resources from almost any location, and without limitations on time.The use of a
portable device to access a cultural institution's information resources may give visitors
greater freedom to design their own visit.
Handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cellular phones, are
currently among the most popular and affordable consumer technologies. Experiments with
their use in the cultural heritage sector indicate that they have the potential to transform how
we visit and experience heritage institutions. Handheld devices are flexible, have increasing
amounts of storage, and provide multimedia support for audio and video content.The mer-
ing of functionalities (e.g. mobile phones with cameras, audio players, organisers) has led
to a radical change in the ways in which mobile devices are and can be used.
If a device can be connected to a local network, it can be used to send, receive and
share information. PDAs may provide the next step in the development of audio guide-type
devices. Although audio guide technology offers flexibility in formats and modes of access,
new mobile devices have the advantage of Web connectivity and the facility for displaying
increasingly high-quality images.
In addition, such content can easily be updated with-
out the use of wires or other direct physical connections.Their implementation moves us
a step closer to offering an augmented reality experience.
As with many new and emerging technologies, handheld devices are subject to inten-
sive research and development, and with each new product they are faster and cheaper.
Cellular phones and PDAs can now render restricted texts of Web pages via wireless com-
munication protocols such as the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and General Packet
Radio Service (GPRS), as well as rapidly improving capabilities for handling larger portions
of audio, video and written text.
132 This may lead to rights issues. Recently in Japan, steps have been taken to clamp down on `digital shop-
lifting', or the photographing of magazine pages with mobile phones.
See for the full story.
It is not difficult to imagine how this might affect cultural heritage organisations.
133 For a cultural heritage approach, see Scagliarini et al. (2001),"Augmented reality and mobile systems: Exciting
understanding in Pompeii through on-site parallel interaction with dual time virtual models", online at
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