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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:  October 28, 2010

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Museums and the Web 2003 Papers

Edutainment Environments. A Field Report on DinoHunter: Technologies, Methods and Evaluation Results

Sebastian Sauer, Kerstin Osswald, ion2s buero fuer interaktion; Dr. Stefan Göbel, Axel Feix, Rene Zumack, Anja Hoffmann, ZGDV Darmstadt e.V., Dep. Digital Storytelling, Germany

Abstract

The global aim of DinoHunter is to develop integrated concepts for mobile edutainment applications and knowledge environments. Typical examples for this are interactive scenarios for museums, theme parks, or various kinds of exhibits and trade fairs. From the technical point of view, DinoHunter combines computer graphics technology with interactive storytelling, user interface and user interaction concepts such as Kids Innovation or momuna (mobile museum navigator).

Keywords: DinoHunter, DinoSim, DinoExplorer, museum installation, digital museum, Edutainment environment, modelling and animation, rendering, interaction design, Senckenberg museum

Introduction

In this article the two DinoHunter applications - DinoSim and DinoExplorer, developed for the famous Senckenberg museum in Frankfurt, Germany - are introduced. Both DinoHunter modules represent typical examples for digital museum applications. Whilst DinoSim is realized as a touchscreen application and enhances interactivity within a museum, DinoExplorer focuses on virtual museums and provides an interactive learning environment enabling users to dive into the world of dinosaurs. First we provide a brief overview of DinoHunter, DinoSim and DinoExplorer as well as the underlying methods and concepts for building edutainment environments and integrating information into DinoHunter applications. Then the main part of this best-practice study describes DinoExplorer and DinoSim in detail. Finally, a short evaluation section discusses major results and obstacles/open issues concerning the DinoHunter project with the Senckenberg museum.

DinoHunter includes various digital applications for both virtual museums and actual museums. Underlying concepts and methods of the global DinoHunter scenario were introduced by Sauer and Gööbel (Sauer 2003) at Museums and Web, 2003. Within the concrete DinoHunter project with the Senckenberg as described in this paper, museum visitors are introduced to the world of dinosaurs. In contrast to movie or TV productions on dinosaours, both DinoSim and DinoExplore are not focused on special effects, but based on the scientific results of palaeontology research. Senckenberg represents one of the most significant nature museums in Europe: it includes a society for nature research with expertise in zoology, geology, paleontology and botany. Among other exhibits the collection contains fossils and reptiles from primitive times. The dinosaur exhibition is certainly one of the biggest attractions of the museum. Skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops or Diplodocus give impressions of these enormous and fascinating animals (Senckenberg 2003).

Skeleton of T-Rex

Figure 1: Skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex).

DinoSim

For its re-opening in November 2003, Senckenberg had a great interest in improving the exhibition by integrating multimedia systems. In addition to a general visitor information and navigation system, two kiosk terminals around the most exciting exhibits (skeletons of T-Rex and Diplodocus) are enhanced by the DinoSim application which provides a 3D real-time simulation and animation of dinosaurs. The primary goal of DinoSim is to visualize different science-related theories about appearance, movements and behavior of dinosaurs. Visitors can freely navigate around the dinosaurs within a 3D environment and can take pictures from their own view(point)s. These pictures are sent by e-mail to the visitors' e-mail addresses, and users can make use of the T-On-line Fotoservice to get T-shirts, cups or bags printed with their individual dinosaurs. (T-Online International AG, an international Internet service provider, sponsors the Senckenberg museum, specifically the development of the DinoSim and DinoExplorer applications.)

DinoExplorer

DinoExplorer represents a game-oriented application that is available for download on the Senckenberg Web site. Within a rally-like searching game, the user can explore the virtual Senckenberg and its exhibits with the task of finding a particular animal (Leptictidium). To the degree the user succeeds in finding the Leptictidium, further functionality is available on a (virtual) PDA as mobile device. For example, users can choose different layers for the skeleton, inner organs, muscles or possible appearances (color, structure) of skins. Further on, the mutual breathing of dinosaurs is presented via 3D animations.

DinoHunter Edutainment Environment

DinoHunter provides integrated concepts for a wide range of interactive museum (or any other edutainment) applications. The basic principle is to combine computer graphics technology such as 3D Rendering, Virtual and Augmented Reality or multimodal interfaces (speech recognition, video recognition, gestures, etc.) with Interactive Storytelling approaches found in the field of film, theater or fairy tales, and to further user interface and user interaction concepts. With the support of mobile devices, location-based services and paedagogic aspects (learning models and concepts), DinoHunter makes the museum into an interactive learning and gaming environment.

Dino_hunter Environment

Figure 2: Dino-Hunter Environment (Settings)

The placement of DinoHunter takes into account the needs and knowledge of various users and user groups involved in the multi-facetted domain of museum applications (see figure 2): individual visitors, families or school classes as visitor groups, museum educators, scientific, administrative or marketing staff at the museum, or all the different user groups visiting virtual museums using the museum's Web site.

Apart from a comprehensive DinoHunter platform providing tools, methods and concepts for all these different user groups, additional case studies and pre-defined templates help:

  • Museum staff to select library data and artifacts and make them available within digital museum applications.
  • Administrative staff to monitor user behavior and success of individual artifacts or exhibition parts, measuring the retention period of visitors at special exhibits.
  • Scientific staff to get visual feedback of their research providing 3D reconstructions of dinosaurs or visualizing appearance and behavior (such as walking). This also includes a rapid prototype environment as part of the authoring environment.
  • Museum educators to enter digital media, didactic methods and learning models or any hints leading the visitor to the most important artifact.
  • Teachers to prepare (and post-process) the museum visit of a school class.
  • Kids/pupils to interact and communicate with each other or send messages in order to solve a group-based task in a museum's rally or game.
  • Marketing people to combine the content layer (artifacts, exhibits and digital media, or even access to further repositories) with the museum's shop or the Web site or event calendars.

Further details about underlying methods and concepts for the complete DinoHunter framework and further application scenarios such as DinoTalk (Chat with a dinosaur), DinoPuzzle (3D-Puzzle based on Augmented Reality), DinoMemo (memory game) or DinoTriple (2D-puzzle) are provided by Feix, Göbel and Sauer (see References). The following section focuses on the two DinoHunter applications developed for the Senckenberg museum: DinoSim and DinoExplorer. DinoExplorer characterizes the idea of the basic DinoHunter concept - the visitors in the museum with mobile-experience appliances.

Case Study

DinoSim and DinoExplorer were the first applications, in the wide range of DinoHunter scenarios, realised and implemented for the Senckenberg museum in cooperation within T-Online and Senckenberg. The following paragraphs describe technical details and interaction aspects for both applications.

DinoSim at Senckenberg

DinoSim is based on the results of comprehensive research done by the palaeontologists at the Senckenberg museum. These results and thoughts about the (probable) appearance and behavior of the dinosaurs T-Rex and Diplodocus have been transferred to 3D models as digital representations of the dinosaurs, with further animations, e.g. walking movements. These models and animations are integrated into a 3D environment and placed on kiosk-like terminals with touchscreen functionality in front of the real skeletons within the largest Senckenberg hall.

DinoSim in the museum

Figure 3: DinoSim Application.

The visitor can launch the DinoSim application from the general visitor information and navigation system on the terminals. On an introduction screen, the user finds an overview of the basic functionalities represented by pictograms in order to improve usability of the system. As the application runs on a touch screen terminal, it is very important to design the buttons of a sufficient size, and with enough distance between them. The sensitive area is larger than the size of the button, in order to facilitate pushing the right one.

DinoSim Navigation Icons

Figure 4: DinoSim Buttons and Orbit Navigation.

Once the simulation has started, a navigation panel placed at the bottom of the DinoSim screen (see figure 5) enables users to freely navigate around the T-Rex or Diplodocus using so-called "orbit navigation". Thus, as with computer games, the user moves around the object in invisible circles by pressing the arrow keys. For changing the view on the dinosaur, there are buttons to zoom in and zoom out or to get back to a default position in case the user is 'lost in Dino/hyperspace'.

DinoSim showing T-Rex

Figure 5: DinoSim with Navigation Panel.

When the user has found a nice viewpoint, he might take a picture, realised as a screenshot of this individual view to a dinosaur. The screenshots are collected and shown to the user in a virtual photo gallery (see figure 6). The user may e-mail the pictures, or return to the application to take another picture. To avoid abuse, the quantity of photographs is limited to 2: each; further photos replace the older one. When the user decides to send a picture, he is prompted to type in an e-mail address. The system doesn't accept an invalid address, but gives the user a chance to retype it. Following the known principle of user interface design WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), a screen with the final picture(s) and the e-mail address is displayed before sending in order to confirm the information or allow the user to return to the application.

After sending an e-mail the DinoSim application is minimized and the terminal system switches to the general information and navigation system in order to avoid a "DinoSim only" phenomena.

Virtual Photo Gallery

Figure 6: Virtual Photo Gallery

In order to achieve a high level of usability, the system provides the following interaction possibilities:

1. Panel navigation with consistent functionalities such as

  • shutting down the application
  • getting help access to additional information
  • changing position and zooming
  • taking a photograph.

2. Context-sensitive navigation with situation-dependent functionalities such as

  • starting DinoSim
  • sending photos via email
  • going back to e-mail input, and
  • going back to application to take another picture.

Snapshots of different Dinosaur views

Figure 7: DinoSim Snapshots

From the technical point of view, both applications DinoSim and DinoExplorer are realized using C++, OpenGL and Nvidias' programming environment Cg (C for graphics), a complete programming environment for the fast creation of effects and real-time cinematic quality experiences on multiple platforms. By providing a new level of abstraction, Cg lets developers more directly target OpenGL or DirectX without having to program to the graphics hardware assembly language. We used small programs called shaders to create breathing dinosaurs with hair and feathers, and to animate these animals. The shaders are divided into two main categories: Pixel-shaders, changing the look of each pixel; and vertex-shaders, changing the position and orientation of each vertex in the mesh.

DinoExplorer Senckenberg

DinoExplorer is available for download on the Senckenberg Web site. The primary idea was to rebuild the museum as a 3D model enabling users to navigate through the virtual museum, especially in the phases preparation for a museum visit and post-processing. For example, a teacher can view material in the virtual museum in advance and can decide which artifacts a class will visit, or what information is available, or whether appropriate information for courses in history or biology is available. A little side-effect is that, for example, ill pupils who can't join a museum's visit can download the application and actively participate in discussions in the post-processing phase later on.

In order to increase user acceptance, the pure rendering technology of DinoExplorer is enhanced with game-oriented facilities in the form of a searching game. Young visitors/users such as pupils or kids are especially familiar with computer games, game engines or level concepts within games. Hence, DinoExplorer is subdivided into two levels.

DinoExplorer Handheld

Figure 8: DinoExplorer Introduction Screen.

After downloading and installing the DinoExplorer appplication, users enter level one of the virtual Senckenberg museum and can wander around examining numerous artifacts. An introductory screen displayed on a virtual mobile device (e.g. PDA, see figure 8) gives an overview of the available functionality and explains the goal of the searching game. The challenge is to find a particular animal (Leptictidium) within the virtual museum.

Once the user succeeds in finding the Leptictidium, he can take advantage of full functionality of the mobile device and enter level 2. Now inside the PDA screen the dinosaurs come to life: they get a skin texture and start to breathe (astonishing for the user and a unique feature of DinoExplorer not found in many other mobile museum applications). The user also can change the view of the dinosaurs by pushing the function keys to reproduce different approaches to dinosaur reconstruction. The exposed skeletons are outfitted with different layers. Choices are:

  • F5: Display of textual information
  • F6: Change of skin color
  • F7: Change of skin structure
  • F8: Functionality help, manual

In conclusion, the visitor to the virtual museum will get fascinating insights and views on the dinosaurs, better understand how dinosaurs might have looked, and will be motivated to visit the real Senckenberg (again and again).

Challenges

The following list summarizes the most challenging issues of DinoExplorer from a technical point of view:

Modelling of 3D objects

Based on a floor plan, a 3D model as virtual Senckenberg museum has been developed using 3DS (3D Studio Max) software. Within the next step, existing artifacts and blackboards in the 'real' museum have been analysed and shot and placed in the virtual museum, too. Whilst the use of blackboard shots as textures in the 'virtual' has been uncritical, the transparency of artifacts in the form of skeletons has caused some trouble in programming.

User Handling of the DinoExplorer

Similar to computer games, DinoExplorer operates with mouse and keyboard. Corresponding to the two game levels described above the function keys F5-F7 are disabled in level 1 (searching the Leptictidium) and are switched on in level 2 to provide full PDA functionality and to permit visualization of the different dinosaur layers and breathing animation.

Collision Detection

Common collision detection technology is used to avoid 'walking into' a dinosaur, a skeleton or a wall. Here, the most critical issue is the implementation of collision-detection for stairs bridging different floors of the virtual museum. We tested two principles, regarding collision detection of artifacts (skeletons of dinosaurs). While using B-Boxes (bounding boxes) is not expensive from the performance point of view, using bounding spheres is more realistic but needs more computing power. We focus on a 2D level concept regarding collision-detection of walls and take into account only the floor plan with about 100 polygons for one floor in contrast to the full 3D model of the Senckenberg with approximately 10,000 polygons.

Possible Extensions

DinoExplorer tyrannosaurus

Figure 9: DinoExplorer Level2.

With regard to possible extensions of the current DinoExplorer application and its maintainability, we provide a configuration file based on XML technology, enabling developers to easily integrate further artifacts and blackboards or to re-arrange placement of individual dinosaurs (corresponding to re-arrangements in the 'real' museum).

Users at the Opening Ceremony

Figure 10: User Testing at the Re-Opening Ceremony.

Evaluation

Before putting the DinoExplorer application on the Senckenberg Web site and integrating the DinoSim application on the kiosk-like terminals, we carried out a multi-phase user testing and evaluation process. Corresponding to the iterative software engineering process, at the beginning we first built prototypes showing the basic functionality and user interaction design application workflows. Based on these demonstrators, we had some internal user tests and intensive discussions with our project partners Senckenberg museum (from the content-related and scientific point of view) and T-Online (from marketing point of view, considering the integration of the foto service facility within the DinoSim application). In parallel, we had several robustness tests, especially of the DinoSim application, placed on terminals. Here, the problem of overheating arose, causing blue screens after 3.5 hours. This problem has been solved in collaboration with the hardware provider by the integration of further ventilators into the tower system of the terminals.

We then developed first application prototpyes which were presented at the several re-opening ceremonies at the Senckenberg museum in early November 2003. Here the fascinating point was that we didn't have to ask visitors to test our applications or motivate them to answer some questions: visitors both young and old were very interested in these digital museum applications and explored them using the 'learning by doing' principle. Whilst DinoSim has been evaluated very positively by all different user groups (independent of age range), some elderly people had minor problems navigating in the virtual Senckenberg museum in the DinoExplorer application. Young visitors were familiar with computer games and 3D navigation spaces.

All the results were collected (see figure 10) and integrated into the final concepts for both applications, implemented at the end of December, 2003. Altogether the two applications have been implemented within 5 months, with a development team of 3 persons.

User Centered Considerations

One major goal of this evaluation was to enhance the users' experiences with the new learning environments. As a result, easy to use applications and graphical user interfaces with high usability and user experience were generated. In an iterative process derived from the visitors' personal reviews and based on user-centered design methods, conditions and surroundings were analysed, content was optimized and navigation principles were improved.

For example, acoustical feedback is not subtle in noisy surroundings like a museum. Accordingly, all feedback has to be realized optically. Also the kiosk terminals and their monitors should be arranged marginally lower or with adjustable angular motion, to take into consideration the shortness of the children. But logistics decisions were made by responsible museum staff for reasons of economy long before this project was started.

Summary

DinoHunter provides integrated concepts and implemented tools and modules for museums applications or other scenarios within a wide range of edutainment applications, e.g. theme parks, exhibitions, fairs. It combines different digital presentation devices and technologies to expand these spaces by providing learning environments. This paper describes a DinoHunter project with the Senckenberg museum, one of the most famous museums of natural history in Germany and Europe, wheree two DinoHunter modules/applications DinoSim and DinoExplorer were implemented. They exemplify the basic DinoHunter concept of creating an integrated learning environment with digitalization and annotation of archaeological artifacts for both on-site exhibitions and virtual museums.

While DinoExplorer is available for download at the Senckenberg Web site, DinoSim is placed on terminal systems within the museum, enabling visitors walking around the museum and viewing skeletons or reading labels to also interactively explore the world of dinosaurs and learn about their appearance, behaviour, movements, etc.

A multi-phase user testing and evaluation process has shown the great acceptance of these digital museum applications in various user groups, e.g. young visitors, school classes, families or elderly people. Of course the most valuable feedback for the project team always is the fascinated glances of kids using the DinoSim and DinoExplorer applications.

In the long run, we will try to provide mobile DinoHunter applications, not only in virtual format such as the PDA emulation within DinoExplorer, but also in the 'real'. Figure 11 shows a first demonstration of this using VR/AR technology on a tableaut PC enhanced by appropriate tracking technology and interaction methods.

These application domains of freely navigating PDAs and tracking mechanisms represent a hot topic in current research. Probably it will take another couple of years before there are really robust applications providing 3D models and animation (in real-time, analogue to DinoSim and DinoExplorer) of dinosaurs on a PDA.

T-Rex on a Tablet

Figure 11: T-Rex on a Tableaut PC using ARTechnology.

Acknowledgements

DinoHunter methods and concepts provided in this article have been developed by collaboration between the department of Digital Storytelling at the Center for Computer Graphics and the user interaction specialists of ion2s - buero fuer interaction (engl. ion2s - office of interaction), both located in Darmstadt, Germany.

Within our DinoHunter project with T-Online and Senckenberg we have been developing DinoSim Senckenberg and DinoExplorer Senckenberg adapted to the individual situation, context and artificats of the Senckenberg museum. Special thanks to Dr. Bernd Herkner from Senckenberg for all the constructive content-related discussions and Klaus Milczewsky from T-Online concerning the workflow and development of the searching game/facilities within DinoExplorer.

References

Feix, A., A. Hoffmann, K. Osswald, S. Sauer. DinoHunter. Collaborative Learning Experience in Museums with Interactive Storytelling and Kids Innovation. In: Proceedings of 2nd International Conference on Technologies in Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment. Darmstadt, Germany, 2003. 388-393.

Göbel, S., S. Sauer. DinoHunter - Game based Learning Experience in Museums. In Proceedings of ICHIM03, École du Louvre, Paris, CD-ROM. Archives & Museum Informatics. 2003.

Sauer, S., S. Göbel. Focus your young visitors: Kids Innovation, Fundamental changes in digital edutainment. In D. Bearman & J. Trant (Eds.) Museums and the Web 2003: Selected Papers from an International Conference. Pittsburgh: Archives and Museums Informatics. 131-141. Consulted March 1, 2004: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2003/papers/sauer/sauer.html

Senckenberg Dinosaurs. 2003. Consulted March 1, 2004: http://www.senckenberg.uni-frankfurt.de/sm/dino.htm.