BEYOND THE MUSEUM WALLS

The Wonderlab gallery at the Science Museum encourages young people to get hands on with interactive exhibits and get closer to real science phenomena. Spread across seven different zones, visitors can see lightning strike before their eyes, play with giant forces and travel through space under a canopy of stars.

Building on the gallery’s popularity and award-winning success, the Science Museum Group partnered with PRELOADED to explore how the Niantic Lightship platform could bring these experiences beyond the museum walls.

The result of this partnership is Wonderlab AR, a location-based play experience that uses the power of augmented reality and geospatial technologies to bring the wonder of scientific phenomena into our everyday lives, wherever we are.

Wonderlab AR brings the incredible science that powers our daily lives to the fore, through the latest augmented reality and geo-spatial technology.”

Dave Patten, Head of New Media, Science Museum Group

BRINGING SCIENCE INTO OUR REAL WORLD 

From the outset, the ambition of Wonderlab AR was to extend the Science Museum’s mission beyond their site-specific locations and help more people make sense of the science which shapes our lives. Building on the affordances of the Lightship ARDK and inspired by Niantic’s vision for a real-world metaverse, we wanted to bring science into our world to make it more relatable, understandable and valuable. 

Designing for a primarily younger audience, we set out to develop a location-based game that encourages kids and families to get outside and explore the world through eyes-up play. 

The core gameplay loop is designed to encourage people to head out into the world and discover the science hidden in plain sight – similar to a large-scale treasure hunt. At each new point of interest, you discover challenges with a cryptic clue to search and identify the subject matter in your surroundings. Each of these discoveries is designed to move you closer to unlocking a series of playful visual effects that allow you to visualise the wonders – transforming the real world around you. 

PRELOADED set out to develop a location-based game that encourages kids and families to get outside and explore the world through eyes-up play. 

PUTTING SCIENCE ON THE MAP

Science education has always wanted to escape the trappings of physical buildings or institutions, because it’s best demonstrated in context. Our goal was to achieve this by drawing clear and understandable connections between the real-world and scientific phenomena. 

To achieve this, PRELOADED worked with the Science Museum to bring a rich variety of geodata into the app. Using a combination of OpenStreetMap and Mapbox data, we were able to map the location of millions of data points – from lamp posts, post boxes, wind farms, and even bike racks. A bespoke content matrix, which mapped each data point to a scientific phenomena, allowed us to filter all of the hotspots on the map and scale the AR experience across the UK.   

This representation of data transforms local points of interests into moments of scientific discovery. For example, a bridge now becomes a moment to consider the forces enabling its construction and ATMs are a fantastic opportunity to learn that they used to contain radioactive carbon. 

A bridge now becomes a moment to consider the forces enabling its construction and ATMs are a fantastic opportunity to learn that they used to contain radioactive carbon.

VISUALISING SCIENCE IN AR

While technology strives to become more invisible in our world, science, in turn, becomes less visible. With Wonderlab AR, we had the opportunity to make science more visible and bring these visualisations into the audience’s world. 

Functioning as a game-like discovery tool, the app leverages Niantic’s ARDK to visualise the science through real-time AR effects. PRELOADED’s technical art team experimented with different ways of using the ARDK’s meshing capabilities to peel back the layers of the user’s space and reveal the wonders in an engaging way. 

In the app, there’s a selection of Wonders including Lights reflecting off our world, creating a beautiful effect, Electricity showing the frenetic conduction between different points in our environment and Sound waves travelling through our world. Wonderlab AR even visualises a vast rift which engulfs your surroundings, allowing you to reach right into the depths of Space.

Bringing these visualisations to the audience’s world through AR, and making science relatable and contextual through hands-on interactions and location-based play, allows its value and importance in our world to be better understood.

You can now download Wonderlab AR on iOS and Android

The app leverages Niantic's ARDK to visualise the science through real-time AR effects.