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This Is How National Air and Space Museum’s Touch-Interactive Exhibit Works So Well

Projective Capacitive Technology by Zytronic fuels a highly-used touch-interactive exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution designed by Ideum.

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This Is How National Air and Space Museum’s Touch-Interactive Exhibit Works So Well

the Design It! application was designed and developed by Ideum for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Photo provided by Ideum.

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There’s an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. that allows visitors to design, customize and launch space station modules on a touch-interactive table.

Touchscreen technology is evolving quickly and, as such, the museum recently upgraded that exhibit from its legacy iteration that was projection-based. The new solution leverages an 84-inch diagonal touch sensor by Zytronic.

The Zytronic choice was critical. New Mexico-based Ideum, a company that designs interactive technology solutions, chose to work with the maker of Projected Capacitive Technology (PCT) which seems to be very focused on evolving touch technology to keep up with, well, how people want to touch it.

For instance, Zytronic is very focused on the degree of force used when a person touches an interactive display. How hard or soft it’s touch should mean something by triggering levels of engagement. In a map, for instance, a more forceful touch might zoom in on a location. In other instances, more or less forceful touches may simply lead different layers of content.

“Force, pressure or ‘Z-axis’ sensing brings a new dimension of interaction to touch screens, giving businesses a way to enrich the customer interaction in retail, gaming, financial, industrial and other commercial touch screen applications,” said Ian Crosby, VP of sales and marketing at Zytronic Inc.

“Force sensing is especially useful when used in combination with Zytronic’s multi-touch technology, exceeding what is possible on all but the most advanced tablets and smartphones. We successfully brought to large-format screens a technology that, until now, was used only in consumer electronic devices.”

Solving a National Air and Space Museum Challenge

It’s one thing to have an effective and innovative product, but great integrative solutions require somebody to integrate everything perfectly. That’s where Ideum came in for the National Air and Space Museum, which hosts 6.7 million visitors annually.

“The Smithsonian was looking for an update of this proven exhibit. We made some minor improvements to the interface and improved the software itself, but the biggest upgrade was to move the exhibit from a projection-based, optical touch table to a highly reliable, hardened and responsive touch table,” said Ideum’s founder, Jim Spadaccini, in a press release.

“We effectively rebuilt the entire exhibit from the ground-up to withstand the rigors of nearly constant use at what is one of the busiest museums in the United States.”

More from a Zytronic press release:

Ideum engineered an 84” touch table and chose to use Zytronic’s touch sensor because it could be built to Ideum’s exacting specifications, and was able to deliver the multi-touch capabilities required to support simultaneous use by up to six visitors. Zytronic was heavily involved in the design process and was able to produce the single, bespoke design 84” touch sensor without any of the upcharges that often accompany custom work from other touchscreen manufacturers.

The ZyBrid® touch sensor was designed using 6mm-thick thermally toughened Anti-Glare etched glass, providing a combination of smooth ‘finger glide’ interactivity and impact resistance, and the Ideum table was manufactured in powder-coated aluminum for additional durability.

To support the new hardware configuration, Ideum also redesigned the software to include key interactive elements. Specifically, once users complete their space station modules, they can virtually launch their module, displaying the final product at the center of the table. Users can then email a rendering of the final product to friends or family.

This is the third recent touch-table deployed by Ideum in a Smithsonian museum. Similar tables are currently in use at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. In all cases, multi-touch interactivity enabled by Zytronic is being used to draw in visitors and provide an extremely reliable, low-maintenance solution to the museums. This tactile engagement gives visitors an important way to interact with the exhibits and uses technology to reinforce learning through hands-on participation.

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