Museum of Mathematics

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After many years of excited public anticipation, Three Byte Intermedia was a proud collaborator in the process of opening the first ever National Museum of Mathematics.  The New York City museum opened in December of 2012 and features dozens of exhibits that highlight the unexpected applications, curious consequences, and unrivaled beauty of mathematics in the everyday world.  From the beginning, the MoMath creative team wanted to embrace cutting-edge technology that would make the museum unique, personalized, accessible, and ultimately unforgettable.  Three Byte served as the museum’s primary technology consultant and lead integrator as well as producing several interactive visitor-facing applications at the museum.

Client:
Museum of Mathematics

Scope:
Software, AV, Hardware

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When visitors first walk into the museum, they purchase admission at one of several custom Registration Stations implemented by Three Byte.  This custom software application implemented with WPF in C# allows patrons to pick up their reserved tickets or purchase tickets and memberships with cash, credit cards and Google wallet.  The tickets that are dispensed are custom-printed plastic tag badges with embedded RFID chips.  Three Byte developed the system to generate and produce the unique tags that allow personalization of each visitor experience.  Museum members receive permanent admission tags to keep which are custom printed with their name and allow them to track their experience at the museum across successive visits.

In order to take advantage of the RFID tags that each visitor gets at the entrance, Three Byte developed and deployed a wide area tracking system to monitor the location of visitors throughout the museum.  A grid of Motorola antennas in the ceiling continuously monitor the detection of RFID tags within their vicinity.  From this information, a visitor’s path through the museum is constructed and each visitor can view their own path at interactive touchscreen kiosks throughout the museum.  Museum staff can use this information to analyze exhibit usage, hot spots and patron attendance.

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In contrast to most science or childrens' museums, all of the explanatory text about each exhibit is located on an interactive multi-touch kiosk rather than on a permanently printed vinyl graphic label deck.  This served a key accessibility and creative role for the museum because visitors can choose how they want to view the content that is available.  Each screen allows the visitor to choose their native language in order to best understand what is written.  Furthermore, visitors can set an appropriate math sophistication level to read explanations geared toward their specific experience.  As visitors move from exhibit to exhibit their RFID admission tag allows each kiosk to automatically present the content to them using their personalized settings.  The kiosks are implemented in HTML5 and depend heavily on JavaScript and jQuery to provide a seamless application feel without full screen page reloads that are ubiquitous in most browser interfaces.

 
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MoMath also offers a continuous variety of educational programs both for school groups and the general public.  The museum includes a multi-purpose lecture and classroom area that supports small group activities as well as large presentations such as the well-known Math Encounters series.  Three Byte provided A/V design and integration services to create a flexible system that takes advantage of very limited space but still accommodates theater-style video projection and natural speech-reinforcement.

 
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The whole museum is operated and monitored by a show control system that comprises content management, power management, status reporting and analytics. Exhibits communicate with each other and the backend system via a secure, permissioned web API.  Museum staff utilize a responsive browser-based interface to control and troubleshoot exhibits from their smart phones.  Volunteer mathematics collaborators log in to the system from home in order to add content and continually update the descriptions and explanations that are available to visitors.  Three Byte used C# running on Windows IIS and MySQL running on Fedora to support all of these operational processes.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Mathematics.