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Droning On About the Annual Meeting in Seattle

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

In Tuesday’s post, Henry Evans previewed the demonstration of telepresence robots (aka Remote Presence Devices) that CFM will be hosting in MuseumExpo. (If you want to sign up to “beam in” and visit the Expo via robot, email Vanessa Jones to book a slot.)

Today I  preview a second demo that will occur in the Alliance Resource Center in MuseumExpo:


This is Michael, our drone pilot. He will be stationed in the Resource Center, flying the very latest model quadcopter drone and chatting with attendees.(The drone flights are roughly scheduled for half hour stints, starting on the hour, since both Michael and the drone need to rest & recharge.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that you invite people to visit your museum via flying quadcopters. (Even Henry blanched at that thought.) But these agile little robots are whirring their way into more and more practical applications in the real world–delivering cargo in Africa, inspecting roofs, keeping an eye on kids at the bus stop.They are beginning to be used in a variety of research settings (monitoring habitat and endangered species, assisting in  archaeological  field surveys) and I think they may have broader applications in museums, as well.

Here are three ideas for how museums could put drones to work:

They could make it easier and less expensive to monitor and document  the condition of historic structures, particularly the exterior–roof and architectural detailing. 

They can  give people a different perspective on the inside or outside of your history structure. Watch, for example, this lyrical video by Nate Bolt filmed, via drone, inside the New York Public Library. (If you watch to the end, you will see shots of the drone itself, which is the same model we will be flying in Seattle.)

Controlled by museum staff, drones could provide “insider” tours of sensitive sites (habitats, archaeological or paleontological sites) or remote field research. Back in 2009 Seb Chan blogged about experimenting with drones at the Powerhouse Museum to give people a glimpse behind the scenes in collections storage.

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All of these applications could help people understand what museums do, why they do it, and why it is deserving of their support. So maybe the museum drone cam will never have the viral popularity as the National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam. But museums in large, expensive to maintain structures (like Cincinnati Museum Center, where I worked before coming the the Alliance) could use livestream drone tours to make a powerful case for funding conservation of the “biggest object in its collection.” Curators in the field could use drone footage (together with blogging and tweeting) as one more way to share the experience of their research, and engage people in the process, as well as the outcome, of their work.

Skeptical? That’s fine. Got more great ideas for how to use drones in your work? That’s great, too. Stop by the Alliance Resource Center in MuseumExpo to check out the drone, talk tech with Michael and share your inspirations and concerns. 

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1 Comment

  1. This actually makes a lot of sense! I never thought something like that could be used in a museum, of all places, but I really like the idea. My concerns would be storage, repair and maintenance costs of the drones; you'd definitely need a backup in case the primary broke down or "crashed" and needed to be rescued!

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