News: Knight Foundation Awards Five Museums $750K in Funding for Immersive Exhibits with Microsoft

Knight Foundation Awards Five Museums $750K in Funding for Immersive Exhibits with Microsoft

Augmented reality seems to come into its own in museums, where audiences are ready and willing to try out new immersive tech. Now, that tech-powered palette is about to get a little larger.

On Wednesday, the Knight Foundation announced grants that will allow five museums nationwide to wow visitors with immersive exhibits. The monetary awards amount to a combined $750,000, alongside coaching from Microsoft.

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A total of 500 museums vied for the cash offered in July by the non-profit Knight Foundation, which has in the past tackled social problems like online extremism with technology grants.

Selected museums are already getting trained on Microsoft's immersive software and hardware in Redmond, WA, where Microsoft has its headquarters. While on campus the museum reps gained access to various Microsoft platforms and devices.

Executives from winning museums gather at Microsoft headquarters to get AR training. Image by Nicole Ryan/Knight Foundation

One of the museums -- the American Museum of Natural History -- has given us a glimpse of what its immersive exhibit might look like. The famed arts facility shared an image of a museum visitor wearing a HoloLens 1 (see the top of this page) while manipulating a floating mask. Using the augmented reality device, the museum hopes to provide more context and information related to its collection rather than relying solely on traditional identification labels.

Winning museums will also have the option of using Microsoft's Azure Kinect, a camera system and developer kit that can be used to capture 3D objects and motion.

Grantee museums are also being familiarized with Microsoft's AltspaceVR app, which the software giant acquired back in 2017. The VR social network and meeting place is often used to show off films, live VR performances and, you guessed it, art. The app can also capture footage of people in a crowded space (like a virtual museum) and show everyone as an avatar.

Just last year, Microsoft was making museum artifacts "come alive" by using the HoloLens to show video context bubbles that popped up around a model of the Mont-Saint-Michel French monastery (see video above).

Whether the grant-winning museums in question are looking to make their exhibits edgier, attract more visitors, or just want to distract kids itching to touch their pricey displays, they now have some serious tech to do so with.

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Cover Image by Eozin Che/The American Museum of Natural History

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