Take a selfie with a whale at museum

The National Museum of Singapore uses Google's Tango technology to make its history come alive

Visitors can see the whale skeleton where it used to be displayed, with the help of augmented reality.
Visitors can see the whale skeleton where it used to be displayed, with the help of augmented reality. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Heard about the 12.8m-long Indian Fin Whale skeleton that used to be in the National Museum?

Now you can see it in the spot where it used to be displayed, with the help of augmented reality, which modifies a user's view of the real world.

Since the end of last year, the National Museum of Singapore has been offering architectural tours on the building's history.

But from April 22, enhanced hour-long tours, using Google's Tango technology, will make the history of the iconic building come alive.

Visitors will be given a Tango- enabled smartphone to use at six points of interest in the museum.

The technology uses indoor mapping to detect a visitor's location in the museum. Google engineers spent six months taking detailed scans of every part of the museum for the project.


  • WHERE: National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road. Meet at the left corner of the rotunda

    WHEN: Saturdays. April 22, 3 and 5pm; April 29, 2pm; May 6, 3 and 5pm; May 13, 3 and 5pm

    ADMISSION: Free. Registration is required. Minimum five, maximum 15 participants

    INFO: www.nationalmuseum.sg

So, when visitors stand under the glass passage on the second level of the museum, they will not only see the whale skeleton on their screens, but also what the whale might have looked and sounded like.

Some Singaporeans will remember this whale skeleton fondly. It was displayed there from 1907 through to the 1970s, when it was returned to Malaysia.

With the help of augmented reality, visitors now can take selfies with it.

The device also uses elements of virtual reality, which replaces the real world with a simulated one. For example, visitors in the rotunda will be able to see, on screen, what the space looked like in the 1950s.

During those years, a marble bust of Sir Stamford Raffles was placed in the centre and there were patterned clay tiles on the floor.

A painting of a view from Mount Wallich, which used to be in the Tanjong Pagar area, by artist Percy Carpenter, hung on the wall - it is now part of the museum's collection.

"The museum is primarily a collection-based museum. How we introduce technology always has to be focused on how it helps to tell the story of the collection or, in this case, of the building better," says Mr Jervais Choo, the museum's senior assistant director.

The technology, he adds, "acts as an aid to appreciate different features of the museum and how it has expanded and grown through the years".

The project was undertaken by the museum to commemorate its 130th year. Opened in 1887, it was then called the Raffles Library and Museum.

This new endeavour is done in collaboration with Google and developer GuidiGo.

Museum docent Ma Swan Hoo, who has led the architectural tours and helps train new docents, says the technology "brings an interesting dimension" to the existing tour.

She highlights an augmented reality three-dimensional model of the building, which shows how it has changed over the years.

"Without this device, visitors would have to imagine the changes. Now they can see it being developed," she says.

The reconstructed animated whale is also sure to delight, she says.

"You see it in the flesh - the tail flaps and it opens its mouth. That is a surprise element I think a lot of people will enjoy."

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline Take a selfie with a whale at museum. Subscribe