Google has released Art Project which allows visitors to roam around some of the great museums of the world and zoom into close details of paintings. This is the same technology that Google uses for Streetview.
For a selection of paintings you can zoom in until you see the minute details of the paint strokes and cracks. It is very blade runner. Drill into the Ambassadors Painting to see the tiny cracks in the paint. Some of the paintings have been purposely blurred due to privacy or copyright issues. It is, like wandering around your streets, a very cool experience to slide around the inside of a building. I haven't been to the Frick Museum in decades, so it was nice to see the Fragonard Room again from my desk today.
Trailer for Google Art Project
I was a little surprised to see how many Museums were included in this first pass. Generally, the museum managers seem pretty uptight about commercial use of their pieces. A recent NESTA report, Culture of Innovation, though seemed to suggest that the more people know about a Museum collection actually the more likely they are to visit it.
Further, many museums are looking at making money online and no doubt are curious to see how this Art Project experiment plays out.
We might also really wonder what is Google up to? Sure this is pretty cool, but how is google going to monetize this stuff? Will they implement paid ads against iconic artwork? Will the museums get a rev share on this?
Google uses technology for the cameras and data collection from suppliers like Immersive Media. Immersive Media has a wicked dodecahedron HD 11 camera device that captures 30 frames per second. it looks like the laser inside the planetarium, but smaller and mobile. So you could have almost live streaming of 360 pannable, zoomable images if you could process and stream it fast enough. The camera is tied into a GPS location unit. Perusmably, the frames are all tagged and then processed automagically into the scenes.
Check out this 2007 video showing 360 video
You can see a little on how they put it together for Art Project here:
I also like this Popular Mechanics piece from 2007 on how individual operators walk around using PS3 controllers and HUDs to manage the image collection. Popular Mechanics estimates the cost for the camera and associated kit is close to $100,000 plus anywhere from $125 to $700 per mile of video footage. I guess it must therefore be around $10 per square meter to do indoor footage. It is likely pricing is down in the last 5 years as well. In general it should be possible to capture many indoor spaces as show them up on the web.
You definately get a sense of "placeness" with Art Project. The web page navigation and drill downs are useful to allow movement between rooms and points of interest. Not sure why the hotspots aren't more useful to pull up related information, but that seems pretty easy to set-up.
But you are alone enjoying it. It is also flat 2D imagery which eventually gets kinda tiring. Although for Art Project you can zoom into the paintings to discover things you wouldn't normally see. Is this sort of hyper-2d?
Without an avatar it is both easier to use and also harder to get a sense of scale. But the whole issue of what to wear at the museum is moot.
It is a personal viewing and exploration tool on the web though and this is really exciting. It will allow people from all over the world to get an idea on how vast and amazing the museum collections are.