CHAR: An Online Collection and Database of Augmented Reality apps in Museums and Cultural Heritage Sites

CHAR is a collection that groups over 100 cultural heritage AR apps and related materials, including apps for museums, art projects, activism, and AR apps for archeological and heritage sites.  In this collection, I identify twelve categories of AR application in cultural heritage settings, and I use them to classify the projects. In CHAR, entries documenting AR projects can be browsed individually and in groups based on their AR category. These AR categories are indicative of twelve ways to (re)construct the user experience of cultural heritage content and sites, and they contribute to the field by providing an overarching, medium-specific framework for both the analysis and production of AR apps in cultural settings.

While the categories presented in CHAR are supported by thorough theoretical and UX research I have conducted elsewhere (Efrat, 2020; Efrat and Casimiro, 2021), the format of an online, public collection makes these categories accessible and handy. By including diverse metadata fields and a brief bibliography in each entry, I aspire to turn the engagement with CHAR into a gateway through which further research about the opportunities embedded in digital cultural heritage can be conducted. I also envision that the AR typology may inspire designers and cultural institutions to combine different application categories, and thus to expand and further develop the current use of the technology in museums and other cultural heritage settings.

In this context, it is also worth mentioning that cultural heritage AR projects suffer from a similar problem to that of digital artworks (Grau, 2019): since both the software tools and hardware employed are multiple and develop rapidly, it is challenging to find the appropriate methods and avenues for gathering and documenting such projects. And yet, without proper documentation of the diverse forms of cultural heritage apps and digital museum programming, it becomes challenging to reflect on and effectively utilize the added value of digital technologies. Otherwise put, under these circumstances, learning from others’ experiences may become a complicated and time-consuming task.

CHAR seeks to address this need by collecting, grouping, and displaying connections between separate projects that would perhaps otherwise disappear. Simultaneously mapping and documenting existing modes of museum AR apps, CHAR aims to simplify the exploration process and to encourage the production of innovative and effective application modes.