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African American museum goes high tech

Lonny Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, speaking at a podium
Lonny Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo: Google.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture today is launching a new interactive installation that was constructed via 3D scanners by Google's Black Googler Network.

Why it matters: The installation will allow museum visitors to interact with rare artifacts in 3D, giving people access to objects that otherwise would not be featured in the museum, the engineers said Thursday night.

How it works: BGN and museum staff explained that Google donated 3D scanners and trained the Smithsonian museum staff to allow them to condense the usual multiple hour process of scanning artifacts into the interactive design to 15 minutes. The installation is part of a $1 million donation from Google when the museum first opened.

The gritty details:

  • The program will start with 10 artifacts. Once museum visitors interact with the technology, information will be gathered to assess how the process should proceed and grow based on the usage.
  • They faced a challenge: Darker artifact items are typically harder to digitally render in great detail, so they had to add the right amount of light to capture it successfully.
  • Some artifacts in the collection include: platform boots scanned from the play "The Wiz," a cast molding of Eubie Blake’s hands, and Seba Johnson’s ski boots.
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