For over a decade, a research group at VRVis has been exploring the use of technology to make art accessible to visually impaired and blind people. Based on these findings in the field of inclusive digitization, VRVis developed a software-supported method for translating work of art into digital 2.5D models using 3D scans and photographs. These serve as a "manufacturing template" for tactile reliefs made from resistant materials such as Corian using an innovative milling process. The reliefs are notable for their high quality, yet comparably low manufacturing costs, as well as for the precise translation of even the smallest 2D details into tactile details.
As part of ARCHES, for each of the six museums involved in the research project a tactile relief was created from one of their works of art and implemented in the exhibition. In addition, the tactile reliefs of the VRVis have also been used in other art institutions to enhance the original artworks and make an important contribution to barrier-free art education.
During evaluations and testing in the context of the in-house workshops at the museums involved in ARCHES, the participants repeatedly expressed the desire that the tactile reliefs should be extended by further levels of interaction. In response, VRVis began to gradually add further elements to the interactive audio guide that had already been developed as part of the AMBAVis project and was developed as the first media supplement to tactile reliefs for visually impaired and blind people.
The interactive Multimedia Guide that emerged from this research work is characterized by the combination of visual, tactile and auditory senses as well as its technically simple setup: The HP Sprout, which is equipped with a touch screen, a depth camera and several colour cameras, is comparatively user-friendly to transport and set up. In addition to the tactile reliefs, the Guide provides background information on the artworks in the form of sign language videos, audio files, with and without subtitles, as well as texts in different difficulty levels. In addition, soundscapes, animations and special projections support the art experience.
Due to the low-threshold and intuitive application as well as the wide range of mediation offers that the Multimedia Guide combines, it is both an important tool for people with special needs to experience art more inclusive and without barriers, and generally an enriching experience for all museum visitors.
Based on the findings of the AMBAVis research project, the researchers at VRVis also refined the prototype of the so-called "relief printer" during the ARCHES project. It is, however, only a printer in name because it is a device which can produce temporary tactile reliefs by mechanically adjusting pins. These special reliefs, unlike the previous ones, are no longer milled but clamped into an adjustable frame by the "printer" after the pins have been mechanically modelled. This "printing method" makes the relief medium reusable as often as needed. Both the medium consisting of pins, which can be exhibited as a tactile relief in the museum, and the "relief printer" are patent pending.
The Horizon2020 project ARCHES coordinated by VRVis convinced the jury in the category "Social Affairs".
VRVis receives together with the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna the Zero Project Award 2020.
The EU-funded participatory research project "ARCHES" was awarded the eAward 2020.