In December 2002, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, IBM and CultNat launched a portable information service for museum visitors. Called the Digital Guide, this handheld computing application represents the next generation of assistive technology in museums, going beyond traditional audio-only devices to offer in-depth text, images, and animations to contextualize the artifacts encountered as visitors move through the museum.
The Digital Guide serves a variety of purposes. For museum visitors it is a source of portable, contextually-relevant multimedia information about content on the Eternal Egypt site. For museum curators, it is a tool for delivering tours in a convenient, modular way. For museum administrators, it is a system for tracking visitor usage patterns and demographics and for embedding the visitor experience into the larger of context of the Eternal Egypt website.
Above all, the goal of the Digital Guide at the Egyptian Museum is to enhance the museum visitors' experience without detracting from personal, one-on-one encounters of some of the world's richest art and artifacts. The Digital Guide supplements the museum's existing signage in a way that is extensible and which invites exploration. Visitors can follow tours established by the museum or browse amongst the museum artifacts in a less structured way: by individual artifact ID's, by room, by artifact images, or by taking individual recommendations from the museum.
All content on the Digital Guide exists in English, French, and Arabic. The modular, story-based organization of content works extremely well on the handheld devices. For each artifact on the device the visitor has the option to read more in-depth information, view other visual representations of the artifact, or simply to continue on to the next module or artifact. As visitors move through the museum the IBM Text-to-Speech engine narrates important connections between artifacts and larger themes in Egyptian history. Text-to-Speech allows a mostly "heads up" experience of the museum while the multimedia on the device permits in-depth study of interesting topics and close examination of visual details that may not be easily noticed otherwise. Animations of complex topics supplements the textual descriptions and images.
The Digital Guide keeps a log of the artifacts, characters, and places that the museum visitor has selected or encountered with the Digital Guide. This provides two benefits. First, when the device is returned a personalized, printed record of the visitor's tour of artifacts is generated. Thus a custom catalog is created as the ultimate personalized souvenir of one's visit. Also, the logging of visited museum artifacts permits the museum staff easy access to usage statistics such as most popular artifacts and most popular tours