Museum Case Study | Digital Experiences
New England Air Museum Kaman Exhibit Digital Enhancement
In early 2017, Quast Media LLC, a digital technology solutions agency located in Manchester, CT and Nashville, TN began initial technology outreach conversations with the New England Air Museum (NEAM) in Windsor Locks, CT.
NEAM, the largest aviation museum in New England, is dedicated to preserving and presenting historically significant aircraft and related artifacts. The museum showcases numerous one-of- a-kind and notable exhibits that recount the rich history and innovation of both civilian and military aviation, aerospace, and the innovators who created it.
Quast Media is known for innovation in digital technologies, including interactive digital signage, video production and 360° virtual tours, augmented and virtual reality solutions, and holographic projection. Quast Media’s creative team knew the museum could benefit from digital enhancements to better engage, educate and delight museum visitors in fresh and immersive ways.
In January 2020, NEAM was challenged by The Kaman Foundation, Inc. to propose enhancements to the current Charles Kaman exhibit that would expand on the innovations and contributions of Charles Kaman. The foundation offered the possibility of a grant to finance the project, should a project proposal meet their exhibit criteria.
Kaman was known as one of aviation’s great inventors and innovators. He achieved many breakthroughs including the first twin-rotor, gas turbine-powered helicopter, the first twin turbine-powered helicopter, the first remotely-controlled helicopter and the first all-composite rotor blade. Over the years, his helicopters set numerous records for performance and altitude.
In addition to building a worldwide reputation as a successful inventor and entrepreneur, Kaman also became admired for his work for visually-impaired people. In 1981, he founded Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, a groundbreaking organization which breeds and trains guide dogs for the blind. Additionally, Kaman, an accomplished guitar player, formed Kaman Music in the 1960s. He used his knowledge of vibration and aerospace composite materials to design the popular round-backed Ovation Guitar, a major innovation in the 20th-century music business.
NEAM recognized the challenge as an opportunity to move beyond traditional exhibit approaches, into the realm of cutting-edge digital experiences. With Quast Media as a digital solutions partner, the two companies began to explore the possibilities for a multi-faceted project that could engage and immerse visitors in a whole new way.
Quast Media conducted a detailed review of the current exhibit that included addressing scale and footprint, visitor traffic and experience timing, and fabrication and mechanical logistics. Together, NEAM and Quast Media identified comprehensive objectives that would satisfy the museum, its visitors and The Kaman Foundation, Inc. in addition to an important philosophical guidepost for all development decisions:
It’s important to understand that digital experiences often require electronic devices, videos and, in this case, augmented reality and holographic images. We need to appreciate how immersive these things can be. We will strive to create experiences that educate and delight visitors with innovation — without superseding the real-life, tactile experience the museum offers — the enjoyment of authentic history in the presence of real, original aircraft.
The resulting project proposal incorporated multiple digital experiences, including an interactive multi-touch kiosk, holographic projections, and augmented reality (AR) experiences.
The project was presented to both NEAM executives and The Kaman Foundation, Inc. The concept was quickly approved, the grant put in place, and formal project work began in April 2020, with an estimated completion date of late November 2020.
Suffice it to say, the emergence of COVID-19 in early February 2020 introduced an element of concern for everyone. Quast Media innovated a virtual process and project management approach that would assure the entire project could be completed as planned, on time and on budget. This was a key factor in the project’s ultimate success.
The project was completed in four phases of development:
This opening phase of the project included virtual primary and secondary research and creative development. Quast Media’s research and feasibility studies included online surveys and Zoom- based focus groups, museum industry trends, and a comprehensive study of the life and accomplishments of Charles Kaman. Work completed in this phase was dedicated to understanding the needs of target audiences, their feel for digital technologies, and the types of experiences that would attract them to the new exhibit.
Secondly, Quast Media studied the documented life of Charles Kaman, which served to drive the content and aesthetic layers that would make the exhibits unique and memorable. This attention to detail resulted a fact-based approach and creative vision for telling stories through unique digital experiences.
In the development phase, Quast Media and NEAM teams collaborated in areas that included research/technical assessment, scheduling, visitor experience/story, design and aesthetics, app design, marketing, and PR considerations. The resulting efforts were critical in defining the final technologies chosen to tell the narrative: holographic display with audio narration, an interactive kiosk, and a scalable NEAM app featuring amazing AR experiences. The impact of these technologies would be able to be shared and enjoyed long after the visit is over.
The production phase combined R&D with the talents of curators, digital designers and programmers, videographers, facility technicians and the NEAM marketing team. This process included Quast Media designing the customized UI for the NEAM app, content and programming the kiosk, as well as story and 3D animations for the holographic experience. All fabrication, mechanical, electrical, lighting, beta testing, and marketing creation was also handled by Quast Media.
Quast Media had great ambitions for the app and AR experiences, and knew production would require additional input and executional focus. To help optimize their creative concepts, they tapped ARSOME Technology Group, LLC to provide both AR development consultation and production support. ARSOME worked with Quast Media's development team to objectively evaluate each element and provide the programming leverage needed to accomplish the task.
This final project phase was dedicated to installing and testing the app and exhibit components and preparing for a public grand opening. While COVID-19 became a significant factor in a grand opening, the museum remains open and visitors are getting a chance to experience the exhibit. In spite of the tremendous disturbance the pandemic has caused, the many hours of hard work, research, development and creative collaboration have been a tremendous success for the museum.
Since completion in early December, the exhibit has garnered high praise from the NEAM executive team, The Kaman Foundation, Inc. and the many museum visitors who now have a modern, exciting and captivating way to enjoy this important and historical commemoration of a legendary inventor and his innovations.
As with any digital solution, the technology that drives the experiences needs to be monitored and updated periodically to hold the interest of visitors and maintain optimal usability. The app and AR solutions, in particular, will receive periodic technical updates, and the Quast Media team has additional video content to refresh presentations going forward.