Groundbreaking Museum Gadget

Thanks to “Sybilla,” a device invented in Krakow, visiting any major site will become an interactive adventure for guests of all ages.

Sybilla is a complex system based on Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), composed of an iPod-like radio signal receiver and a small battery-powered transmitter called a marker that emits a signal in the form of an identification number. Markers are installed very close to a particular exhibit item, for example under a display case, and the receiver is handed to every visitor entering a museum. When a visitor moves around the museum holding the Sybilla receiver and approaches a particular item from a certain distance, the marker’s signal is received and a recording describing the item is played back. Visitors themselves can choose to operate in manual mode, and Sybilla will then show the name of items located within a specified distance (this is to avoid information noise when a room is full of objects and enable equally comfortable sightseeing even with a large crowd present). After one click on a particular item, Sybilla plays back the name, and after a double click a full, detailed description of the selected exhibit is transmitted. The description will also be shown on the display to enable sightseeing for the deaf.

“Sybilla was created for tourists who want to establish their own order of sightseeing or to stop at a particular exhibit and learn as much as possible about it,” stresses Marek Oliszewski, the maker of Sybilla from Cracovian company Innowacja Polska. The company is owned by Prof. Tadeusz Uhl, who came up with the idea of the whole system and acquired money to complete it from EU Structural Funds. “Sybilla’s flash memory, on which the descriptions are recorded, can be selected according to visitors’ needs and interests. It’s also easy to replace and update. We’ve even been thinking about [making] a ‘virtual stand’ through which a visitor will load onto his receiver the version that is most interesting for him, such as detailed data for connoisseurs or curiosities for kids,” says Oliszewski.

Sybilla can read signals sent by even eighty markers at one time, which is a world record. The receiver is perfectly safe; it does not emit harmful waves that could disturb the operation of artificial pacemakers, for instance. One disadvantage of the device is that it can’t be asked questions. “We wanted Sybilla to be an aid for families with children or enthusiasts of weekend trips, who don’t have much time for thorough planning and studying guidebooks,” says Oliszewski.

The device will no doubt turn out helpful for museum staff, because markers can easily be moved with the exhibits, without changing any data in the flash memory, which is especially ideal for temporary exhibitions that travel around a country. Sybilla can also be integrated with different multimedia devices to enliven a museum’s interior. Upon entering a castle’s courtyard tourists can hear sounds of knights clanging their swords in battle or the sounds of a waltz in a ballroom. Innowacja Polska plans to use Sybilla for visiting vast open areas, such as Krakow’s Market Square or the Kazimierz district. The first tests have been successfully completed in the Historical Museum of Krakow.

“Digital information reaches the recipient much easier and quicker than any other, so there’s no doubt that introducing multimedia to museums is inevitable,” comments Michal Niezabitowski, the director of the Historical Museum of Krakow. “Currently, the most probable place where we could use a wide range of multimedia devices is Schindler’s factory in Zablocie; however we don’t yet know whether it’s going to be Sybilla or some other system. For the time being, all technological innovations are quite expensive, but when they become more common we will definitely use them in other branches of our museum,” says Niezabitowski.

In mid-December, the Historical Museum of Krakow presented the newly restored interior of the former Schindler factory at 4 Lipowa St. – over two sq. km of exhibition space where a new branch of the museum is to be opened this autumn. The display will conjure the experience of World War II-era Krakow, without over-glorifying the person of Schindler himself. Two rooms – a secretary’s office and Schindler’s study – are to tell the story we know from Schindler’s List. However, most probably the grand opening will not come to pass, because the team who designed the exhibit has been quarrelling over author’s rights: theatrical director Łukasz Czuj and stage designer Michał Urban accuse 3D graphic designer Wioletta Mazurek of submitting the project signed with her name only and have announced a court trial to solve the matter.

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