My Interview With a Teen Who Designed His Own Museum AR Mobile App

It is not unusual that I meet someone who wants to show me their amazing new tech tool they think is just right for the learning in the museum. I’m fortunate to learn about their creativity and entrepreneurship. What is unusual, however, is when they are still in high school!

Recently I met Jack, a high school junior, in our Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Hall, where he proceeded to place devices underneath the surrounding benches and walk me around the room, smart phone in hand, to demonstrate how his self-programmed app could recognize my location and serve up location-specific information.

I learned about Jack from his teacher, Fred Vital, who emailed us to ask if we could meet with him:

I have a student with a very interesting and exciting project that he would like to implement at AMNH. He wants to create an interactive means of acquiring information pertaining to an exhibit while visiting the museum. Utilizing a smart phone app, a visitor would be able to access information about the exhibit window that they are standing in front of. The phone would use low cost sensors at each exhibit to automatically recognize where the user is. He would like to share more about how this would work and possibly present a functional demo with AMNH. This is a neat idea a bright kid thinks might work well for the museum.

And bright he was. Jack let me interview him about his project so I could share his work with all of you.
What brought you to the Museum of Natural History today?
I am here to show the concepts I have developed for making exhibits more interactive.

Please tell me about that. 

I use Bluetooth-emitting beacons. Smartphone can pick up those signals and interpret it and determine what exhibit the user is at.

So for your demo what content did you use in the museum?

I just used some random exhibits I made up about gorillas, gazelles and zebras.

So what made you interested in thinking about what mobile apps could bring to the museum experience, and specifically augmented reality?

I come here a lot. I am usually on my phone as I go along looking at exhibits. It would just be easier to have something, a companion that kind of works with you.

What kind of things would you look to this companion for?
I go on Wikipedia a lot, actually, so probably more information. Sometimes I like to Google instructions for the fossils and artist renditions of what they might have looked like.

What do you think of your project so far?
I think right now it functions to a degree.  It doesn’t look great, but it just kind of proves that it’s possible.

Do you think the kind of augmented mobile experience that you are describing is specific to a museum like ours?

Well, I was thinking about applying it at pretty much any exhibit-centric type of place: zoos, aquariums, museums, art exhibitions, a lot of different places.

So what kind of things did you have to learn to be able to develop this prototype?

Well, I had already started to learn objective C and iPhone IOS development a couple of years ago.  And I made some simpler apps for my school, for my school and for myself, and then I read about this new technology one day and I decided I would use that as well.

And you learned it in a classroom?

No, I just learned it by myself. The internet helps a lot.

So what would you use on the internet?  What kind of resources are available for someone like yourself?

Just searching on Google, seeing what other people come up, what their answers are, because a lot of people have the same questions when you are developing a program.  So you can usually find someone who has already had the question answered by someone else, just by searching it.

The passions and interest that you have  brought together — your technical abilities and your passion for this museum — where do you see that leading you in the future?

I am not really sure.  Probably for at least the next couple of years I am going to try to pursue doing something like this.

For now it’s something to do.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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