PacSci Perspectives


Modeling Change: Updating a Classic Science Center Experience with Augmented Reality

by | Dec 13, 2017

Puget Sound Model with AR

What do you do with a prized possession that doesn’t quite fit your current lifestyle? Do you throw it out? Or do you try to alter it to better fit your needs? We’ve been facing that question with one of our most iconic exhibits: our Puget Sound Model. Luckily, the latest digital technologies give us an opportunity to preserve this unique, mechanical artifact while exploring new content in a more dynamic way.

One of the first permanent exhibits installed after the 1962 World’s Fair, the Puget Sound Model has been on our floor since 1971. Constructed by the University of Washington’s Department of Oceanography, the model was designed as a tool to research tidal currents and water exchanges in Puget Sound. Dixie Lee Ray, former Washington Governor and first Pacific Science Center president, spearheaded the acquisition of this replica model in the hope of helping the public better understand Puget Sound as a dynamic marine environment and “as a valuable resource that requires careful and knowledgeable planning for proper use now and in the future.”

This sentiment is even more critical today as we face the challenges of a booming population and a warming climate. These evolving stories require a more flexible tool to help our community visualize change and we think augmented reality is a perfect solution. The addition of digital content will allow us to tell multiple stories that highlight the geological and environmental uniqueness of Puget Sound, and how human activities are affecting our region.

To start experimenting with this technology, Pacific Science Center engaged Stage2Studios, a local development company to create a first layer of digital content for the Puget Sound Model centered around three of the forces that shape our region: volcanoes, glaciers and rainfall. During your visit, you’ll be able to access this content through tablets tethered to the sides of the model. Each side accesses a different part of the story, so be sure to try all three.

During this process, we’ve seen that adding a new type of activity to an exhibit designed in 1971 requires a little finessing, and we have a lot to learn about how you, our guests, will interact with this new technology. During your visit, you might see us testing different ways of mounting the tablets. We’ll also be watching to see if the activity is intuitive and engaging for guests of all ages and abilities. This information will help us design future layers of content and improve the layout.

If you’re a fan of the Puget Sound Model, we hope you enjoy the new addition and we welcome your feedback. What are some of the stories you’d like the model to tell?