Space Imaging: Multitouch Multiuser Exhibit

Part of Exhibition: Space Chase

Topic: Earth & Space Sciences Subtopic: Astronomy

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Jim Spadaccini

Published on February 03, 2010, Modified on March 15, 2010

  • Description and goals

    The electromagnetic spectrum has always been a tough topic to make accessible to museum visitors. After all, only a small sliver of the EM spectrum can be seen with our eyes. Most of what gets “imaged” across the spectrum, is pictured with high-tech, scientific hardware.

    The importance of the EM Spectrum in the field of astronomy can’t be overstated. For example, six of the ten Nobel prizes (in physics) awarded for astronomical research have been for discoveries related to radio astronomy alone. Research in other areas such as infrared, gamma rays and x-rays have also greatly contributed to our understanding of the Universe.

    Over the years, strong exhibits have been developed looking at particular wavelengths such infrared and ultraviolet. The challenge here was to develop an exhibit that would allow visitors to actively learn about the entire spectrum.

    The exhibit is comprised of a multitouch table with a 100" surface (86" viewable area) with a 16:5 ratio aspect. The exhibit software presents a digital representation of the EM spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays. The images change in real-time as they are moved, allowing visitors to see how the object can be perceived differently in each wavelength of the EM spectrum.

    Visitors (up to eight simultaneously) can move images across the spectrum see how they change. If images are not interacted with they will slowly disappear from the table and new image will appear on the table in random wavelength and with a random orientation. Visitors can also select to close an image, bringing up a new one. The exhibit never looks the same as images appear and disappear dynamically.

    Visitors can access “drawers” that provide more information about each wavelength. These drawers are symmetric, allowing visitors on either side of the table to access information. Text throughout the exhibit is decidedly short, but as visitors explore more objects and drawers they begin to get more complete picture of the EM Spectrum.

    The table form factor provides a social space, where visitors can interact with the images, access information about the EM Spectrum and have conversations about what they are interacting with. Unlike traditional kiosks, multiple visitors can simultaneously interact. The multitouch table recognizes up to 50 points, so full hand gestures are supported. Visitors can share images of interest by passing them across the table, as they would objects. The custom EM Spectrum software program was developed with Adobe Flash and uses our own GestureWorks multitouch framework.

    The table includes both celestial images (mostly from NASA sources) and terrestrial images that were photographed specifically for the exhibit. The inclusion of terrestrial, everyday objects was an important consideration, making the exhibit more accessible and understandable. Ideum conducted a multi-wave form photo shoot in thermal infrared, reflected infrared, visible, ultraviolet light and X-ray. Information about each object can be accessed, this contextual information changes as the image is moved from wavelength to wavelength. The text content was developed by educators at Adventure Science Center and was reviewed by scientific advisors.

    The exhibit is powered by two custom-built computers and four infrared cameras provide the tracking. The multitouch table uses two projectors with specialized software to seamlessly blend the image. Unlike top projection systems, the table surface is never “shadowed” by visitors hands, and the table is much more responsive due to the number and close placement of the infrared cameras.

    The table was built for a busy museum environment. We used aircraft-grade aluminum for the frame, steel panels, and the top table surface is made out of micro-etched “haptic” tempered glass. Blue LEDs were added to the bottom of the table to make it appear to float in the gallery space.

Latest Comments (7)

Photos of the inside of the table

by Jim Spadaccini - February 03, 2010

We’ve also just posted photographs of the inside of the table for those of you who might be interested in how this was constructed. Inside the multitouch table on Flickr

You can't take the door off a microwave oven?

by Jason jay Stevens - February 16, 2010

You read my mind: Thanks for the interior detail.
Nice contraption. You folks do good work!

I guess this beats my “Feel the Microwaves” exhibit… nobody ever lets me plug it in.

Good combination of technology and subject matter

by Dave Stroud - February 24, 2010

Although I have not seen this exhibit, the clear description lets me imagine what is going on. I really like the multi-touch format and the scale of this is impressive. The size and shape seems like it highlights the EM spectrum. It also seems like the scale should encourage multiple users at the same time.

I am currently developing an EM/light exhibition and can see how this exhibit would help guests connect the concept to their life.

Those pictures of the guts of this exhibit are so clean! Impressive work.

Good combination of technology and subject matter

by Dave Stroud - February 24, 2010

Although I have not seen this exhibit, the clear description lets me imagine what is going on. I really like the multi-touch format and the scale of this is impressive. The size and shape seems like it highlights the EM spectrum. It also seems like the scale should encourage multiple users at the same time.

I am currently developing an EM/light exhibition and can see how this exhibit would help guests connect the concept to their life.

Those pictures of the guts of this exhibit are so clean! Impressive work.

Brilliant, beautiful photographs

by Patricia Guerrero knight - February 25, 2010

LOVE the Xray iPhone photo… what a decidely clever yet simple way to immediately connect to modern society. Grabbed my attention to click and read your case study!

Coming from a sales perspective, has anyone asked to buy the x-ray pic as a poster? It’s awesome!

Brilliant, beautiful photographs

by Patricia Guerrero knight - February 25, 2010

LOVE the Xray iPhone photo… what a decidely clever yet simple way to immediately connect to modern society. Grabbed my attention to click and read your case study!

Coming from a sales perspective, has anyone asked to buy the x-ray pic as a poster? It’s awesome!

Thanks for the comments

by Jim Spadaccini - February 28, 2010

We really appreciate the comments about this exhibit. Multitouch and multiuser technology is finally at a stage where it is possible to put together interesting exhibits that have tactile qualities and encourage social interaction. This is major step forward as up to now, most computer-based exhibits are lack the physical qualities found here and they are isolating experience.

As for the photographs, Chad Person did a great job shooting the terrestrial images for the exhibit. We worked with ASC to find common and iconic images to include in the exhibit. We’ve posted many of them on our Flickr stream.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideum/sets/72157622938524341/

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