The BBC has launched its first augmented reality app, Civilisations AR, developed together with film and interactive studio Nexus. It is released in parallel with the BBC’s major new TV series Civilisations, first aired last night (Thursday 1 March), which looks at the impact of art on our culture throughout history. The app is as an extension to the programme, and allows users to explore an archive of important artworks across history.
Working with 30 museums across the UK, the team behind the app 3D scanned artefacts from the museums’ collections such as the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian mummy, Rodin’s The Kiss, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures and masterpieces by Tintoretto, Bellini and Turner. These come together to form a “virtual exhibition” that users can see close-up, read about and interact with.
Claire Cook from Nexus’ interactive team tells It’s Nice That the project began as a way to “imagine how we could bring history’s treasures to life in an AR experience.
“We loved the idea of people exploring key moments in art history via its cultural artefacts,” she explains, “and designed an AR First experience which allows users to navigate and select AR artefact map pins on an AR globe, or sort content according to its curated themes, such as Faith or the Human Body."
The 3D scanned artefacts come to life with the “magic spotlight” tool which reveals audio hotspots and special features, such as translating hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone, or an X-ray feature to see through objects. For example, users can look through a sarcophagus to see the mummy inside, or restore an Ancient Greek helmet to see what it looked like when new. More will be added as the series progresses.
“We wanted the user to feel as though they are the explorer,” says Claire. “They can choose to enjoy a quick snapshot of history or take their time to dig deeper. All the artefacts are 3D scans of the real thing, but this time you’re encouraged to touch the exhibit! We wanted the experience to feel as real as possible, with a touch of cinematic magic too.
“The UI design was something we took a long time over. There is no standard visual language for AR yet and so we hope we have helped move things along in terms of interactive design. We went for minimal UI, using voice over and minimal prompts where needed. Overall we are aiming for a quality, intuitive experience which does not assume prior tech know-how from the audience. As a BBC app it needs to work for as wide an audience as possible. For a lot of people it may be the first time they have tried it.”