Local museum commissions Algonquin tech

Ihab Ali, student researcher and software developer for the Museum Touch Table at Algonquin College.
Ihab Ali, student researcher and software developer for the Museum Touch Table at Algonquin College. (Photo by Courtney Symons)

A team of Algonquin College students and faculty are developing technology for a national museum to display an ever-expanding amount of archival documentation not currently visible to the public.

The Canada Science and Technology Museum receives roughly 5,000 images and drawings per month, and approached Algonquin to develop a method to broadcast some of that content pertaining to its most popular exhibit, The Locomotive Hall.

Using touchscreen technology, student researcher Ihab Ali helped develop software allowing museum visitors to navigate photo galleries as well as see 360-degree views and specifications of old-fashioned locomotives.

The hardware required to implement the solution, titled the Museum Touch Table, consists of a sensor sheet placed over top of a big screen TV that is connected to a laptop – which would cost around $3,000 for a 50 inch model, according to Mr. Ali. The TV screen can be hung on the wall or placed horizontally like a table, hence its name.

“The touch table can attract people from different ages,” Mr. Ali said. “They can use their fingertip to browse, they can zoom, they can see inside the trains and outside.”

The 360-degree views allow visitors to peer inside fragile spaces such as cabooses, passenger cars and engines.

Mr. Ali said he was unsure how much money the museum is paying Algonquin for the software, but said he would be paid an undisclosed amount from the college for his work on the project.

It’s an agreement that may turn into repeat business, as the Science and Technology Museum is affiliated with the Canada Agriculture Museum and the Canada Aviation Museum, and may choose to use the easily customizable software for various exhibits, Mr. Ali said.

The portability of the product – it can be used on any computer and TV screen – is a selling point that might see other museums come knocking, especially those with travelling exhibits, Mr. Ali said.

“The advantage here is you can display the content of the museum out of the museum, you can go to other provinces and cities,” he said.

An added bonus for those using the technology might include increased ticket sales.

“Let’s face it, museums now are not like before. Less people go to them. But if they can get more technology into the museums, they can really work much better,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali was pitching his technology at Algonquin College’s Applied Research Day, where students showcased their research projects with displays and demonstrations in almost 100 booths across campus.

Other student innovations at the annual trade show included a gluten-free cereal bar made from ingredients sourced mainly within the National Capital Region; a fundraising platform called HelpShare.it that links non-profit organizations with businesses and invidivuals looking to donate; flexible furniture designed specifically for the restaurant industry; and a case study examining new strategies for the interior design of women’s shelters to suit their specific needs.