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SFMOMA’s New Technology Strategy Reinvents the Museum Experience

Bob Fluegge
SFMOMA's new technology strategy
Rendering courtesy of Snøhetta

The 10-story expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) nearly triples its gallery space, adds a multipurpose performance venue, and features a 4,400 sf vertical garden. The now 450,000 sf cultural destination “sets a new standard for museums,” according to the New York Times.

But the new SFMOMA design doesn’t just represent a reinvention of its built environment – it also completely transforms the museum’s digital strategy. SFMOMA CTO Leo Ballate set out to use Wi-Fi to deliver interactive content to museum visitors to “encourage a deeper and more meaningful engagement both with the museum and the artworks themselves.”

Museum visitors can now expect to encounter interactive technology such as large-scale video displays, touch screens, digital tables, and digital ticketing. The tech that’s gotten the most attention, however, is SFMOMA’s new audio tour app, which features hundreds of 60- to 90-second “thought essays” about the museum’s artworks from composers, comedians, sports announcers, and playwrights.

The app is getting lots of buzz because it responds to your location. Visitors cue it up, wander the museum freely, and learn about whatever art happens to be in front of them. If they feel inspired to contemplate a piece, the app will wait for them. If they skip a room, the app knows that too. As Wired magazine says, the experience “feels magical.”

SFMOMA's new technology strategy
Rendering courtesy of Snøhetta

Immersive hands-free experiences like SFMOMA’s app are made possible by indoor positioning systems (IPS) that actively locate mobile devices. Integrating these systems into a built environment as complex as SFMOMA required planning and strategy. TEECOM provided network and Wi-Fi design for the museum, working closely with Leo Ballate to make his vision a reality. SFMOMA relied on TEECOM to research best-in-class hardware and to design an infrastructure providing maximum coverage.

Indoor positioning systems employ distance measurement to locate mobile devices. This requires Wireless Access Points (WAPs) to be set up along a space’s perimeter in a configuration that allows triangulation – an intersection of three “pings.” The following “heat map” demonstrates TEECOM’s design for Access Point (AP) locations in one of SFMOMA’s gallery spaces, and the resulting coverage. The Access Points are labeled in red, and green indicates the strongest signal.

SFMOMA's new technology strategy
©TEECOM

One of the challenges TEECOM faced at SFMOMA was keeping Access Points unobtrusive. In an art gallery, visual focus needs to be on the artwork, not on hardware hanging from the ceiling. We worked closely with the architects to hide Access Points above acoustic ceilings or camouflage them with paintable hardware so they blended in with the space.

Another challenge was that gallery rooms had to be adaptable to any type of art. The artwork could be a wall of metal or a fish tank – both of which block Wi-Fi signals. To compensate for these possibilities, TEECOM overbuilt the WAP design. Now SFMOMA can put art anywhere.

IPS technology opens up many programming and marketing possibilities for SFMOMA. One scenario is queuing control: if location mapping shows that too many people are in one area of the museum, the technology could be used to direct people to another area. SFMOMA can also track which exhibits attract the most visitors, helping inform future exhibit planning. Location is also valuable information in an emergency. If someone needs help, staff can locate them quickly, and visitors can be directed to the nearest exit.

TEECOM has been working at the forefront of IPS for many years, and we’re excited to see the technology becoming less expensive and finding practical applications – especially ones as creative and educational as SFMOMA’s immersive audio tour. We are currently working on location-based networking for the San Francisco International Airport that uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE), which is a very economical option. If you would like to learn more about our design for Wi-Fi and IPS, contact us!CONTACT TEECOM

 

Bob Fluegge
Bob Fluegge, Principal Consultant

Bob is TEECOM's expert in designing optimal Wi-Fi connectivity. His understanding of network standards, access point mapping, and range enables him to help clients build robust network infrastructures. Bob has also built a personal network of industry partners who respect his opinions and appreciate the value he brings to each project.