Future Energy Chicago at the Museum of Science & Industry

August 7, 2019 Jenn Petersen

Challenging audiences in a museum exhibit that looks to the future, not the past.

Chicago, IL

OVERVIEW

This is no traditional museum exhibit — an immersive experience that challenges visitors to look forward and design their own futures. No historical recreations here. Instead, there’s play, video, interactive gaming and multi-touch interactives. It’s fun, but the point is serious. Visitors are faced with a future energy crisis and they have to create a solution. Future Energy Chicago is a visionary MUSE award-winning exhibit at the city’s Museum of Science & Industry that aims to inspire visitors and give them the knowledge and skills to make better, smarter decisions about energy. They’re doing it with an all-digital, immersive gaming environment — familiar territory for the generation that will have to face the energy challenges.

Visitors follow an immersive pathway that takes them through discovery, understanding and challenge to a solution through a seamless interactive experience. In the first phase, they rediscover the nature of energy in the dynamic Energy Garden. It’s playtime and pure theater — ride a bike, turn a handle and trees light up, text revolves and images move. Power to the people, but then it gets serious. The movement stops, the arena darkens and a video begins. The film explores potential energy scenarios before challenging the audience to take action, now. That sets the scene for the Future Energy Chicago simulation game. Visitors compete in teams, taking turns at five interactive stations to redesign a car, house, neighborhood, transportation system and city power grid for the future, all with the focus on energy efficiency and conservation. Teams use interactive stations to create their designs; projection mapping transforms the five original models and multi-channel audio communicates advice and guidance directly to each team. A dynamic scoreboard keeps track on progress and announces the winning team. It’s fast, competitive and totally engaging — an immersive experience with a message that’s hard to ignore.

CHALLENGE

Creating and controlling a large-scale immersive experience like this represents a series of major challenges. Sophisticated audiovisual and interactivity, simple show control, ease of use and reliability were critical to success. In the Energy Garden a 20-feet wide curved screen for the large-format video had to be retrofitted into an existing space with low ceiling. That made careful positioning of lighting, speakers and projection critical. The gaming area utilizes multi-touch interactive stations for each of the five challenges, with additional stations for the neighborhood game. Each station required custom software with projection mapping used to digitally transform existing models as visitors create their solutions. The facilitators wanted to be able to communicate with the teams so multi-channel audio had to be set up to reach players individually without intruding on adjacent games. The control systems had to integrate with the video and the individual stations to keep the experience moving at a good pace and avoid hold-ups. With so much technology in a small area, careful planning was essential to conceal infrastructure and ensure easy access for routine maintenance.

It’s your future, make it happen! Visitors compete in teams to transform Chicago life with interactive multimedia.

SOLUTION

Audiovisual and interactivity have transformed an exhibit with a serious message into an immersive fun experience that engages visitors and gives them the opportunity to understand and take action on their future. Careful structuring, smart integration, targeted audio and sophisticated show control enables up to 30 visitors at a time take part in the experience and make informed decisions about smarter energy solutions for the future.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The exhibit is helping to change perceptions of energy by connecting visitors with its production and giving them to opportunity to create smarter solutions for the future. Digital experiences relevant to the next generation of energy users deliver the message in a fun way. In recognition of its achievements, the museum received a Gold MUSE award for use of media and technology to engage an audience.

"Three years in the making, the exhibit is unlike anything we’ve ever created and, for that matter, unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a museum setting." - David Mosena, President, Museum of Science & Industry

Download a full version of this project profile here.

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