What options are available to provide location specific information to visitors in museums? And how do these options compare? If you had to make a decision today, what technology would you choose? Well, it would depend on your objective and your budget.

As I’ve pondered these questions, I’ve come up with a list of what I consider to be the viable location sensing options today. This topic must be revisted at least once a year (preferably every 6 months) as the technology is changing quickly.

Location Sensing Options:

  1. Manual
  2. Infrared
  3. Bluetooth
  4. RFID
  5. GPS
  6. WiFi (802.11)
Rating Location Sensing Options
Manual Infrared Blue tooth RFID (short) RFID (long) GPS WLAN

None Low Low Low Medium Low Very High
Line of Site No Yes No No No Yes No
Range 10m 1m-10m 5-25cm 3-5m unlimited unlimited
Functions Indoors Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Energy Required on PDA None Low Low Low Medium Low High

Requirements of my current research:

  1. Indoors
  2. Able to handle 30-50 people simultaneously
  3. Ideal reading range – 1 to 3 meters
  4. Intuitive/transparent technology
  5. Low cost

GPS won’t work, because I’m indoors. I can’t afford to even consider Long Range RFID or WiFi at this time. This leaves me with four options to consider.

Manual User manually enters a code number to indicate their location.
Pros: Inexpensive and easy to implement. Allows you to pour all your resources into content creation and usability.
Cons: Users have to hunt for code numbers. Since most museums don’t have content for every object, users aren’t sure which items have additional content unless they get close enough to see the code number.

Infrared – Infrared triggers are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Simple technology. Low energy requirement. Inexpensive. Because infrared requires line of site, it insures location accuracy.
Cons: Requires line of site, so a crowded gallery can make sensing the triggers difficult. (this can be overcome by placing triggers on ceiling and using multiple triggers).

Bluetooth – Bluetooth triggers are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Low energy requirement. Inexpensive. Does not require line of site (works in crowded situations).
Cons: Bluetooth standards are still in flux. Maximum of 8 connections per pico net will require multiple triggers for 50 simultaneous connections. Can transmit through walls giving inaccurate location.

RFID – RFID passive tags are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Low energy requirement. Short range RFID SD Readers now available at reasonable price point.
Cons: Requires user to be within 1-4 inches of the tag.

My recommendations today for this research project:

  • Infrared triggers on the ceiling

My hopes for tomorrow:

  • Long Range RFID – I’m watching this technology closely and predict that this will be a reasonable solution within 1-2 years.

My humble opinion:

  • WiFi isn’t the best fit for location sensing today. I’ve got to have wifi in the museum for transfering data realtime, but the cost for accurate location sensing isn’t worth it. And before you know it, wifi will be as ubiquitous as mobile phone coverage, so spending large amounts of money on current 802.11 access points for location sensing isn’t the best use of resources.

I can’t wait to see what the landscape looks like in 6 months!