According to Indiana Jones, certain things belong in museums, but, thanks to augmented reality, you can now see some of the ancient treasures of the world in your own home via the Civilisations AR app from the BBC.
The app, built by Nexus Studios, is available now on the App Store for iPhones and iPads compatible with ARKit and through Google Play for Android devices capable of running ARCore. There may be an exception out there, but it appears that BBC may be the first publisher to simultaneously launch an app on both of the major mobile AR toolkits.
To navigate the experience, users anchor a 3D globe to a horizontal surface. (While other ARKit or ARCore apps ask users to tap a space to place content, the BBC app requires users to press and hold a spot.) Around the globe are points of interest, which users can filter by theme.
Clicking on a point of interest allows users to examine models up close, with the app allowing more than six times magnification in some cases. The app includes 40 artifacts in total, and the detail of the models are quite impressive.
"For some time the BBC had been talking to the UK's culture sector about making the art and culture of the UK more accessible," Nick Hanson, producer of the Civilisations series, told BBC Taster. "For example, what if you can't get to one of the big museums in London? Or, how can everyone see the hidden gems from the more remote locations? So, we invited the museums to submit artefacts from their collections that fitted the themes of the BBC Two series. Over 280 artefacts were submitted from over 50 museums and galleries. Those that were selected were then scanned to create 3D models."
Users can also interact with the models. A spotlight tool reveals hidden "hotspots" that reveal more information about the artifact. For instance, users can inspect an ancient Egyptian coffin and find audio snippets describing the item, or an x-ray function that lets users see the mummy resting inside. Pressing the app's book icon gives users the full story in the form of a short article
The app is intended to serve as a companion to the new BBC Civilisations series, which joins the likes of Archer (which won an award for its app), The Walking Dead, and Happy! among the group of shows that have turned to AR to further engage audiences. However, with the level of detail it displays, the BBC app is really in a class by itself.
If historical non-fiction doesn't get you excited, don't fret. Like franchises jumping on the location-based gaming train, it's only a matter of time before a TV show that you like puts out its own AR experience.