Visit Planet Word—D.C.’s spectacular new museum of language


Monday, April 05, 2021: 12:00pm - 1:30pm - - Tour

Nathan Adkisson, Local Projects, LLC, USA, Rebecca Roberts, Planet Word, United States, Kel Millionie, Planet Word Museum, United States

Join us for a tour of Planet Word, D.C.’s brand new museum of language!

Language is one of the most significant features of the human experience, but until now there hasn’t been a linguistics museum on the scale of our great art, science and history institutions. Planet Word, which opened October 22, 2020, answers that challenge.

The museum made its debut during a challenging national moment that posed several fundamental questions: What does it mean to open a museum of language—in the nation’s capital—at the height of one of the most divisive presidential election cycles in history? How do we tackle “fake news,” AI writer-bots, and personalized (mis)information? A visitor-first museum, Planet Word applied innovative technology throughout the institution to create a unique environment where people can put aside their politics for a shared experience about the power of words and language.

Covering 35,000 square feet of gallery space in the landmark Franklin School, every exhibit is an interactive experience, enabling visitors to connect to the content emotionally, not just intellectually. In this paper, we present the case study of the museum’s development, from initial vision through content development, design, and implementation—with a focus on the technology-related decisions and challenges from our journey.

The paper will go in depth into four signature experiences, which together tell a cohesive story of the museum’s development:

    • The majority of language is spoken, not written, so voice activation was a must. However, Washington, D.C. has one of the nation’s most diverse populations, with over 100 languages spoken in the metro area. Voice recognition software has made enormous progress, but is far from perfect. Voice interaction was deployed strategically throughout, and we will share insights from our extensive testing, and rationale for our implementation decisions.
    • The spectacular 30 ft by 15 ft, voice-activated wall composed of 1,000 physical words that uses audio and projection mapping to address stereotypes and misconceptions about how language works.
    • The Great Hall’s 4,800-LED kinetic sculpture surrounded creating personal, face-to-face experiences with native speakers that demonstrate what is unique about 30 different languages drawn from six continents. 
    • The magical library, where visitors can open a book, RFID and projection mapping allows every book to come alive as animation and sounds spills out of 50 books of varying format and subject matter. Visitors’ imaginations are captured when they see basketballs, flames, ghosts, and birds leaping out of the books, but their attitudes about authors are changed when they hear original audio from the authors describing why they wrote their bestselling books.