Beyond the brain

Before I get rambling, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charlie and I’m the latest addition to the Museum in a Box crew. I spent some time with George and Tom as a visiting researcher shortly after their transition to the new Bloomsbury HQ in the spring; but now spring has sprung and summer is done I’m lucky enough to have joined as Junior Designer and officially one of the team. On with the post!

It’s been a while since we’ve written about the various goings on at Museum in a Box so I’d like to take a moment to break down a few developments of late.

Up until now the product has revolved around two parts: the Brain (the box) and the artefacts, either 3D prints or 2D postcards. The interaction too has remained relatively unchanged with an object placed on the box triggering audio which provides context to its origins and history. The audio content that plays has often been a unique script written and narrated by one of the team, however as a great deal of our focus is on the box being used within the classroom, providing information around an object is only half the interaction. Seeing as each box is powered by a Raspberry Pi we’ve begun to explore new ways that we can use that to ramp up the fun that users can have with the box.

A box that listens?

When we consider how the box may be used in the classroom one important factor is how it can act as an intermediary between pupil and teacher. We’ve seen how well school pupils react and get stuck-in with the box and its objects, so finding a way for that to fit in with lesson plans and teaching is important. In response we’ve started work on a new component, a recorder box which will contain a microphone and aims to compliment the box and its objects.

We’ve had the idea of being able to record to the brain in our minds for some time and we’ve been asked again and again if a record feature is on the cards. Seeing as it had come up in discussion so often we thought it was time to crack on with a spot of prototyping!

Mocking up a cardboard record interface
Mocking up a cardboard record interface

We begun by mocking up a few cardboard interfaces with various button configurations, as well as postcards which could control what mode the box was in but ultimately decided that if the recorder box is plugged in, and an object is placed on the brain, it will switch to ‘record mode’ and announce just that. The box will then issue a count down and allow the user to record their own description of the object with the options to replay, delete and save their recording. This new recording will now play every time that object is ‘booped’ unless a newer recording is made.

A render considering what form a record box could take.
A render considering what form a record box could take.

The recorder box will alter the way we think of the content associated with any given object, instead of it being a predetermined description, by plugging in the recorder the user can create their own customised audio. With the object descriptions essentially in flux the recorder will lend itself very well to classroom activities where teachers could set unique tasks to objects that pupils can then record over with their own responses.

We’re now starting to talk to teachers, and understand who the product is serving and how we see the record box working both inside and outside the classroom: whether it’s museum staff creating activities for visitors or parents recording stories for friends and family, we’re super excited to be prototyping this new tool and will keep you updated as things develop. 

Traveling the world via 3D models…

Around-The-World-graph-2

Tom’s done some more writing for our friends over at Sketchfab – this time looking at one of the first 3D scans he produced for the British Museum. It’s part of a series of posts organised by cultural heritage researchers and fellow 3D scanners Abby and Néstor that travels the world one 3D model at a time!

Sharing three dimensional proxies for ancient artifacts online was one of the things that first got us thinking about how we could share the amazing objects museums and other institutions have in their galleries (and vast storage) with people across the world who might not be able to visit a particular museum in real life…

Our first branded hardware!

Over the past nine months or so, we’ve been able to show Museum in a Box to hundreds of people, either in our office or at events, and the response has been fantastic.

It’s also been ongoing informal user research, and we’ve had the chance to watch people figure out how to use it. We’ve varied our description of the mechanics and amount of setup, and observed (very casually) little sticking points. One of the main things we noticed is that it wasn’t clear when the Brain was ready to go. The Raspberry Pi 2 takes a while to start up and get ready to read an object, about 30 seconds, actually. So, we’ve added a physical progress bar to the box to help people know when it’s ready. It even says READY!

Adrian soldered the first version, which you can see here. We also adjusted the layout of the box to simplify it a bit. All you really need to know about is power, volume and when it’s ready.

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And we put a BIG GREEN LIGHT at the end, which is fun.

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I’ve also been thinking about what kind of simple instructions we’ll need to include in a box that doesn’t have us driving it. Hopefully something like this, with just three steps would be good.

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And then, Adrian took a very exciting step and ordered us our very own Printed Circuit Board (PCB) to drive the progress bar from now on.

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It’s possible I’m overexcited about the progress bar, but, I love it!

Big Stuff Arrangements

One of my favourite things about museums in boxes is that whoever is looking at the stuff can arrange them however they like.

Even in our very first version, on the very first day, all we did was arrange the stuff. It was interesting to arrange them by the date they were made, and the date they were acquired by the museum. We also mapped them geographically too.

Here’s the display we made that day:

The Small Museum Version One
Untitled
The Small Museum Version One

We’re working on our first commission – Woo! – and it’s a set of Big Stuff from the British Museum. You can obviously arrange them by size, but also when they were made, and when they were acquired. (Note that the human-sized figure is the box commissioner’s wife, and not part of the British Museum’s collection.)

arrangements

Fun to think about how these sorts of arrangements could be transformed into different information. At the moment, our boxes have a single point of contact, but there could be many. Maybe you can arrange the objects to get different stories.

Bump. Boop!

I just realised we’d set up this blog way back in March 2015. We had no audience then (and don’t have a very big one now, if we’re honest), so the posts were meant as a bit more internal. They might be interesting to you today, and are something of a rough-as-guts archive, so we’ll leave them up.

Lots has happened with the project since then. Here’s a quick timeline:

  • March 2015 – Box 001: Made at Somerset House, under The Small Museum banner
  • October 2015 – Museum in a Box Ltd. incorporated
  • November 2015 – Box 002: On George’s dining room table, paper prototypes examining form and early interaction design ideas
  • December 2015 – Box 003, 004, 005: For public display at the Remix conference at the British Museum. Website V1 online.
  • February 2016 – Box 006: Our first commission! Big Stuff From The British Museum.
  • February 2016 – Gill Wildman joins our Advisory Board
  • March 2016 – First grant applications begin…
  • April 2016 – Nick Stanhope joins our Advisory Board
  • April 2016 – Our first client training session! Martin, Ash, and Ian from the Postal Museum came to the office for an afternoon, and Tom taught them more about Blender. Ask us about training!

photo of the office and trainees

It’s tremendous fun. We’re a Proper Startup too, bootstrapping everything and keeping day jobs and working it out as we go. Right now, we’re thinking about:

  1. Finishing the commission!
  2. Working directly with teachers in classrooms
  3. Partnering with museums around content / box curation
  4. Getting the brain smaller
  5. Building out web editing UIs to help make new boxes quickly
  6. Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.

We’ll plan to write lots more to the blog. I’ve been missing blogging about all the stuff that’s happening. Call me old school, I guess?

Prototyping the Idea

We’re really looking forward to being at Somerset House next week. We’ll be there from Wednesday for about two weeks. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been preparing our first prototype set of objects. (Tom’s going to follow up with a post about all that.) We’re off to iMakr shortly to pick them up!

They’re going to look like this lady, and we can’t wait to start thinking about how to help her tell her story.

goddess

Hello, the universe!

What’s Museum in a Box?

  • Create your own collection of art/history objects carefully selected from museums around the world.
  • Print your collection in 3D, and have it shipped to your school, home or office. International orders are welcome.
  • Learn about your collection and discover other related cultural and archival material through easy-to-use NFC technology (or similar).
  • Share what you learn about your new Museum in a Box with other museum lovers.

We’re in the very early stages of development, and we’re about to embark on a fortnight of prototyping in public at Somerset House. Thanks to Cassie Robinson for her kind invitation to make use of some vacant space.

If you’re in London and would like to stop by, please do let us know!