Getting your site up and running with VR and AR

Cultural Heritage sites across the globe are facing the challenges of re-opening their sites, to safely encourage visitors to return. For those who are using, or thinking of taking advantage of, virtual and augmented reality technologies, as a way of enticing people in, we have put together some suggestions on how you can ensure customers are confident of the safety of these devices.

According to a recent survey by “Museums and Heritage”[1], the majority of those questioned said they wanted assurance it was safe to go to sites and expected safety measures to be put in place before they returned.

That is why you need to ask yourself several questions beforehand [2]: Have you done a thorough risk assessment? Have you properly communicated on your website about the measures and restrictions that will be put in place to avoid disappointment from visitors?

General management of visitors

  • Explain Covid-19 guidelines clearly, to ensure that visitors enjoy their visit safely and responsibly
  • Invite visitors politely to continue moving through the venue, in one clearly-marked direction (particularly at common pinch points) to ensure as many visitors as possible can enter the social distancing measures can be observed.
  • Tours can be adapted to add or remove ‘stops’ to reflect which areas are currently open to the public. This is particularly useful where venues are doing phased openings
  • Sites can offer a shortened tour so visitors won’t be dwelling too long in the same space
  • Consider introducing a timed ticketing system to manage the flow of visitors (encourage to purchase tickets online if possible).
  • Introduce contactless payment
  • Use of hand sanitiser at the entrance and exit

Use of technology

As pointed out in a recent article published on the “Museums and Heritage” site [3] , technology can help take much of the strain of visitor management in a post-COVID environment.

However, it is likely that both sites and visitors will be reticent about using equipment that is publicly available. Sites may consider not using audio guides, for example, until alert levels and numbers of cases have been further reduced.

  • Be aware that visitors wearing any kind of VR headset, or even focussing on a tablet or audio guide, will be less aware of their surroundings and of the proximity of other people
  • Wash hands before and after using equipment; all those who touch it should wear gloves
  • Dispose of gloves after each use and cleaning of equipment
  • Use non-alcohol, non-abrasive anti-bacterial wipes (although be aware that if done thoroughly, surfaces will remain wet for 10 minutes)
  • Visibly show that the headset/tablet is being cleaned after each use, to reassure any visitors waiting
  • Wipe the lens and foam using a microfiber cloth that has been sprayed with disinfectant – do not use wipes
  • Use a waterproof VR cover that can be cleaned with disinfectant wipes after every use
  • Make sure equipment is stored in a clean, dust-free environment
  • Alcohol-free antibacterial wipes will suffice for most headsets and controllers: wipe down the hard surfaces (if you watch someone putting a headset on and taking it off, you’ll get a good idea of which surfaces are touched the most).
  • Consider investing in replacement headbands/facial interfaces and controllers; Oculus sell these online for their headsets [4]
  • For tablets, remove any cases or covers before cleaning then gently wipe the exterior with an antibacterial wipe
  • For audio guides [5], remove the plastic capsule to clean dust and interstitial dirt with a microfiber cloth, clean the surface with single-use disinfectant wipes or a cloth soaked in a non-alcoholic solution and wait three minutes for the liquid to evaporate.

If sites have available funding, and a large amount of equipment, it would be worth considering a system such as cleanbox, which uses UVC light to kill nearly 100% of all bacteria and viruses in one minute (costs of their new CleanDefense product are approximately $2,950 plus shipping costs from the US).

It is also worth bearing in mind that good practise is to use disinfectant wipes on headsets, in particular, regardless of whether there is an ongoing pandemic or not.

Aside from safety and hygiene rules, it is important to remember that visitors come to spend an agreeable time and may lose their motivation in spite of so many rules, constraints and long waits. [6] While the site can offer virtual tours or activities apps, why not take advantage of this waiting time to remind visitors to download the app on their phone, provide a QR code or an internet link on wall posters. In addition to the signage, visual and sound environment, particularly at the reception desk, coatrooms or ticket counters, is not to be neglected. This can be a soundtrack in line with the virtual reality adventures presented, signs along the line, alternating between trivia questions and answers, or any way to allow people to take advantage of the queuing time to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the site.

We hope that these tips and indications will be useful to you and in any case we encourage you to regularly visit the official websites for any clarification and regulatory updates [7].