Installation Profile: Intelligent Design
Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney
How technology helps realize a thoroughly modern vision for the new home of one of our nation’s oldest museums.
“This is a very open, reflective space, with about a dozen or so exhibits in fairly close proximity in each of the main areas on the first floor,” Dunmeyer says. “Having the ability to focus audio in a very specific path really helps. So when you move from one display to another, you move out of the beam of one speaker system and into the next.”
The tabletop displays have room for wheelchair access, which in turn created a need for small computers and compact rear-projection systems that are designed for extremely short throw. For this reason, the most challenging exhibits contain a Mac Mini computer and Toshiba TDP-EW25U video projector.
The museum's ADA mandate dictated that all video systems have captioning available. With both HD and SD displays, finding a seamless method for providing captioning was a challenge. The solution was to create an application suited to the task.
“We just couldn't find a playback device that could switch to captioning on the fly in an attractive and timely manner. You don't want to wait multiple seconds; it should just be like a reveal,” Harris-Cronin says. “We used a graphical programming environment by Cycling '74 called Max/MSP/Jitter. Basically, you push a button for captioning, and the computer just jumps to a different piece of video in the same spot, but with captions in place. It takes less than half a second.”
Exhibits called Person-Facilitated Experiences (PFE) put a human face on things. Basically, these allow visitors to interact with working personnel, mediated by a docent. Examples include a dive show in the coral reef exhibit, penguin-feeding shows in the Africa Hall, and a working research station.
The Philippines Coral Reef is a two-story tank containing live coral and hundreds of various fish. Periodically, a diver enters the tank and speaks with observers through a Clear-Com CellCom intercom system.
“With one Cell 10 station, you can get six completely different audio pathways, so we could do all the exhibits we needed with a single system,” Kaufman says. For underwater applications, the diver wears a full face mask with integral microphone and headphones from Ocean Technology Systems; a comm line carries audio up to the surface where the CellCom beltpack resides in a waterproof case.
The popular African Penguin exhibit also features a live show, with penguin cams, which are also viewable on the museum's website. The cameras are Sony SSC-DC374s, each encased in custom weatherproof housing to prevent degradation from the salt, humidity, and smells of this living exhibit.
Another unique exhibit is the Research Lab. The academy has a long history of leadership in field research, and it wanted to make it more accessible to the public. A glass wall allows guests to see the researchers, who can present content from their ongoing projects. A projectiondesign F10 1080p projector accepts images from a microscope camera, a DNA sequencer, a ceiling-mounted videocamera, or a video source. Again, the researcher uses a CellCom 10 system to communicate via loudspeakers on nearby kiosks, while the docent uses a handheld Sennheiser ew335G2 wireless system to relay questions and comments. Both the Clear-Com system and the Sennheiser wireless are used throughout the academy and routed through the MediaMatrix system.
“It's kind of a complicated audio path,” Kaufman says. “But again, if desired, we can take those signals and output them anywhere in the building. Once the signal is in MediaMatrix, you can do just about anything with it.”
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