2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday January 12, 2022

Updated on Wednesday January 12, 2022

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Alexander Lavrov

Alexander Lavrov

Founder , Next.space

Embracing new technology with Heritage in Motion 2021 winners: LIFE CODE escape room quest

Heritage in Motion is a competition recognising innovation by the creators and users of films, games, apps and websites on themes related to Europe’s heritage. Today, Alexander Lavrov, founder of Next.Space, tells us about LIFE CODE, winner of the ‘App’ category.

Child holding up a tablet device in front of an exhibit of a dinosaur
Title: LIFE CODE
Creator: Next.Space
Date: 2021
Institution: Next.Space
Country: Russia
CC BY-SA
LIFE CODE

In autumn 2021, Europeana was proud to be part of the international jury for the annual and prestigious Heritage in Motion awards, run by Europa Nostra and the European Museum Academy.  In this theme, we talk to the 2021 award winners and find out how the cultural heritage sector is using new digital technologies in their inspiring projects.

Today, Alexander Lavrov, founder of Next.Space, tells us about LIFE CODE, winner of the ‘App’ category.

Can you tell us a little bit about your winning project?

Alexander: LIFE CODE is an augmented reality-based adventure story allowing people to actively engage in the State Darwin Museum of Evolution based in Moscow. The application explores every aspect of the Darwin Museum in detail whilst engaging people with a unique comic-book style background story and illustration. 

The central idea of the quest story is that it is the year 2057 and the visitor is carrying out DNA research to decipher the genome of all living things on earth (hence the name ‘Life Code’), helped by an artificial intelligence assistant. The quest is entertaining and educational with players interacting with real exhibits in augmented reality. It’s available for Android, iOS, Windows in the museum and online.

It all started with a creative idea to change the way we use technology to learn and engage with culture. Lena Khanova, a student with disabilities participating in Microsoft's programme for young talents, ‘Get your hands on professional experience’ asked the question: what if we created an application that would allow people to actively participate in their museum experience, either in person or remotely, through augmented reality? Could we create an immersive experience for children and adults to spark a conversation with the content of the museum through a quest or challenge that would make museums fun for all visitors? The answer was ‘yes!’ The project quickly took shape and was successfully presented to the Microsoft philanthropy team and the Microsoft Russia team by Lena and her mentor Tim Cranton. This kicked off an effort to make the dream a reality.

What did using digital media/technology make possible for this project?

The project is based on augmented reality and cognitive technologies. Due to augmented reality, the visitor can see a digital layer of the museum and interact with exhibits. We used cognitive tech to create a very effective virtual assistant. An English voice capable of conveying a range of  emotions was generated using Microsoft text-to-speech.

How have your audiences reacted to this project?

We find that very often parents can struggle with museum trips, with the educational focus and the overwhelming display of artefacts and exhibits. But they are delighted to know that this application has an educational side and provides the child with activities and puzzles with some wonderful unique features. Parents can get their children up and running with the application with very little support from the outset. And they are reassured to know that the application is child-friendly and at no point can the child access any unwanted in-app purchases, inappropriate content or in-depth menu systems.

Child holds up tablet in front of an exhibit of a goat
Title: LIFE CODE
Creator: Next.Space
Date: 2021
Institution: Next.Space
Country: Russia
CC BY-SA
Child holds up tablet in front of an exhibit of a goat

Teachers use the application when taking groups of students to the museum. They advise the students to work in pairs or teams to see who can finish the adventure first. Screenshots can be taken of completed puzzles or the animals discovered and used later when returning to the classroom.

For the average visitor, it’s great fun too! Our visitors tell us they find the application a delight to use and enjoy the augmented reality. They particularly enjoy the puzzles and the back story behind the adventure.

What have you learned about working with digital cultural heritage from this project?

It was our first project working with a natural history museum, which is very different from arts museums. Recognising animals in augmented reality is more difficult than working with 2D images like paintings. 3D models of animals are very heavy and some of them have fur or feathers. We had to reinvent our approach on how to work with real time mobile 3D for this project.

What difference does winning an award like this make to your project or future work?

Winning the Heritage in Motion award helped us to understand that our vision of ‘edutainment’ for museums was interesting for international museum professionals. It inspires us to scale this approach to other museums around the world.

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