Build your own virtual collection with Museums in the Metaverse

12 October 2023
An ambitious new £5.6 million project to develop Virtual Reality museums has been officially unveiled today.

The Museums in the Metaverse project – funded by the UK Government’s Innovation Accelerator programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation - builds on Scotland’s reputation for cultural regeneration and innovation by creating a ground-breaking Extended Reality (XR)* Culture and Heritage platform.

One side of the platform is for visitors to gain access to a rich array of museums, sites, objects, and novel and dynamic experiences. The other is for virtual curators to build enriching and entertaining storytelling using objects and virtual environments that have never been placed together in the real world.

The project will empower online visitors to explore vast cultural assets in engaging new ways; enable expert and novice curators to create new content; and explore models of use to support sustainable economic and cultural growth.

It will harness the University of Glasgow's global reputation for research in digital cultural heritage and XR, together with key cultural heritage and immersive technology partners, to develop an innovative solution to constraints that can limit physical museum exhibitions to less than 10% of the objects held in collections, and limit audience reach by cost, distance, and accessibility.

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The University of Glasgow, together with leading immersive learning platform Edify, Historic Environment Scotland and National Museums Scotland, hopes to unleash the potential of traditional museums to allow visitors to experience collections in a new and exciting virtual world.

The Museums in the Metaverse team, led by the University of Glasgow’s Professor Neil McDonnell, say virtual museums won’t replace the experience of visiting a traditional museum. However, they hope XR experiences will enhance the offering of traditional museums.

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Professor Neil McDonnell who is principal investigator of the Museums in the Metaverse project at the University of Glasgow, is photographed in front of a display at The Hunterian. Photo credit Martin Shields

Professor Neil McDonnell, based at the University’s Advanced Research Centre (ARC), said: “Virtual Reality Museums offer transformative extensions to the traditional museum experience: they can host collections of any size, show distant objects side-by-side, and be accessed from anywhere in the world. Their potential is extraordinary. However, there are several challenges – economic, technological, and cultural – which have so far limited universal use including the expense of producing a bespoke VR experience as well as lack of technical skills to digitise collections and assets in 3D.

“It is estimated that over 90% of objects in collections can’t be seen as they are in storage. Museums in the Metaverse can help liberate these collections and will allow museums the freedom to connect with their audiences in new and exciting ways. Just imagine being able to step into history and get up close to the virtual duplicates of ancient relics that in the real world can only be displayed or viewed behind glass. We also hope that it will bring new audiences to museums who are currently excluded as they live too far from biggest and best collections. Moreover, Museums in the Metaverse will let anyone create their own virtual museums and tell their own stories with objects from all around the world.”

* Extended Reality (XR) is an all-encompassing term for immersive technology, including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR)

(report courtesy University of Glasgow, images courtesy of Martin Shields)