Carlos Museum goes interactive
with Georgia Tech's help

In the hushed galleries of the Carlos Museum, visitors can do more than just gaze passively at ancient artifacts and works of art.

Through the hands-on capabilities of multimedia technology, they can reconstruct a fragmented clay pot, draw their own masterpiece and play a tune on a 1,800-year-old flute.

It's all done on computer kiosks, thanks to an innovative program developed by the museum and the Georgia Tech Interactive Media Technology Center (IMTC).

"People go to places like Scitrek and everything's hands-on," said Ed Price, IMTC's assistant director and director of the Carlos Museum project. "You come here and you can look, but you can't touch anything. In a way, we're letting people touch the objects now-look at them, turn them around, find out more about them."

Elizabeth Hornor, coordinator of educational programs for the museum, agreed. "It's a museum educator's dream to be able to present information in this way," she said. "It makes objects in the museum seem more alive."

Funding for the project came from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Museum Collections Accessibility Initiative. The 1992 grant put the Carlos Museum on the forefront of a movement that has art museums throughout the country setting up web pages, computer kiosks and multimedia exhibits.

Georgia Tech's involvement in the project began two years ago, after the IMTC's mock-up designs convinced museum officials that the best talent for their money was just across town.

For IMTC's faculty and students, the project meant coordinating a wide range of multimedia technology and anticipating where computer technology was going. "We realized that if the project didn't incorporate future technologies, the novelty of the kiosk might be lost," said Brian Jones, an IMTC research engineer. Hornor praised IMTC's efforts. "There has never been a single thing that we've wanted to do that technologically they couldn't figure out some way to do," she said.

The kiosks feature a "virtual museum" approach that closely matches the design and layout of the real museum. The six kiosks are located just off the galleries in small rooms designed specifically for multimedia projects.

By touching the computer screens, visitors can access video and audio clips, pictures, flythroughs and manipulable 3-D models. Objects from six of the museum's major collections are available, as well as information on general museum programs and comments about the building itself by architect Michael Graves.

Among the highlights of the program are an interactive map of Emory Professor William Arthur Shelton's archaeological expedition to the Near East in the 1920s, and a picture of an ancient jaguar effigy vessel from Costa Rica that dissolves into a real jaguar.

Future plans call for a searchable database of the museum's 15,000 objects and a CD-ROM version of the kiosks.

Amanda Crowell works in the Research
Communications Office at Georgia Tech.

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