Most people understand and accept that it’s beyond frowned upon to touch a priceless work of art in a museum setting. Usually, this “no touching” measure put in place by museum authorities to preserve the relics and masterpieces of ancient culture hardly ruins the overall experience, because the majority of paying customers can simply fall back on their sense of sight to transport them to the past. But what about the more than 253 million visually impaired citizens of the world? If they can’t touch (or see) a famous kinetic sculpture, for instance, what happens over time to their conception of art as an entire means of human expression? Unfortunately, it’s very easy for “seeing” people to take their ability for granted and forget about these kinds of everyday challenges for the impaired portion of the population. However, as the growing Virtual Reality (VR) industry increasingly bleeds into the digital signage, communications and interactivity industry, some of these types of problems can be mitigated or even overcome as the technologies are now continually working towards enhancing experiences. Case in point: The National Gallery of Prague recently teamed up with Geometry Prague and NeuroDigital for “Touching Masterpieces,” a campaign that used VR to allow visually impaired patrons to touch and feel world-famous 3D objects in virtual space.
In collaboration with the Leontinka Foundation for the blind and visually impaired, the “Touching Masterpieces” VR experience employs haptic Avatar VR gloves, specially adapted for this installation. Picking up where the tactile system of Braille left off, this campaign’s multi-frequency technology provides the user a sense of depth and texture manifested as vibrating feedback. In other words, the “masterpieces” literally take shape in their hands.
“Blind children are usually taught in school with relief aids and tactile pictures that far from accurately reflect reality,” said Leontinka Foundation’s Executive Director Barbara Hucková. “This new technology is an incredible breakthrough, allowing pupils to touch what was absolutely unattainable before.”
“Through curiosity, pursuit of innovation and a passion for creativity, we realized that specially-adapted haptic technology could open doors to a unique art experience for the blind,” said Geometry Prague Creative Director Julia Dovlatova. “Our collaboration with NeuroDigital helped us fine tune haptic gloves to ‘see’ art through virtual reality touch.”
“Touching Masterpieces” debuted at the National Gallery of Prague between March 23 and March 24. Take a look at the video below as a series of visually impaired museum goers finally get the full picture of some iconic art pieces including Michelangelo’s David, Venus de Milo and the bust of Nefertiti thanks to these VR capabilities. It showcases what the second coming of VR is capable of, and it’s also quite moving…I mean…touching.