VR museums platform backed by £5.6m government funding

Image: L-R Professor Maria Economou, Professor Neil McDonnell, Dr Pauline Mackay and Dr Lynn Verschuren who are part of the team working on the Museums in the Metaverse project. (Martin Shields)

Museums in the Metaverse is hoped to allow for the creation of mixed-reality experiences include 3D-scanned collection objects.

A £5.6 million project to develop a virtual reality museum platform has been unveiled today.

The Museums in the Metaverse project is hoped to allow both professionals and amateurs to become “virtual curators”, building virtual and mixed-reality environments which can include 3D-scanned objects from collections.

Online visitors will then be able to visit these spaces via a VR headset from anywhere in the world.

The project is based in the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts & Humanities, and is funded by the UK Government’s Innovation Accelerator programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.

Project partners include immersive learning platform Edify, Historic Environment Scotland, National Museums Scotland, University of Glasgow College of Arts & Humanities and The Hunterian to create the platform.

Professor Neil McDonnell, based at the University’s Advanced Research Centre (ARC), is leading the project.

McDonnell said: “It is estimated that over 90% of objects in collections can’t be seen as they are in storage. Museums in the Metaverse can help liberate these collections and will allow museums the freedom to connect with their audiences in new and exciting ways.

“Just imagine being able to step into history and get up close to the virtual duplicates of ancient relics that in the real world can only be displayed or viewed behind glass.

“Museums in the Metaverse will let anyone create their own virtual museums and tell their own stories with objects from all around the world.”

The platform is hoped to allow for the creation of virtual museum experiences in the metaverse without the costs of developing a VR experience from scratch.

Chanté St Clair Inglis, Head of Collections Services at National Museums Scotland, said the organisation is “committed to widening access to our collections both physically and digitally” and the Museums in the Metaverse project “offers exciting possibilities for wide engagement with our collections, with XR offering rich opportunities both for new kinds of public engagement as well as potential collaborative research work with others in our sector both in Scotland and internationally.”

Maria Economou, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at The Hunterian, said: “This project will enable researchers around the world to remotely access and engage with cultural heritage collections that cover a wide range of disciplines. The access to state-of-the-art photogrammetry equipment will be invaluable for long term development of The Hunterian’s digital capacity and resources for our increasing range of audiences.”

George Freeman MP, Minister of State at the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said the £5.6 million investment ”is helping the University of Glasgow to build on its reputation for extended reality research, while in turn boosting opportunities for learners and curators and promoting UK innovation and culture around the world.”