Cuseum IoT Digital Tour Guide
Museums are important for making the past come alive, teaching, and preserving art and history. But engaging visitors and identifying what they like and where they spend their time can be a process of guesswork. Cuseum Inc., of Boston, makes IoT products designed to change the equation by connecting individual items in the museum to visitors’ smart devices, turning phones and tablets into digital tour guides while delivering insights about visitors to museum management.
“Our platform is used by museums and public attractions around the globe to drive on-site engagement,” explains CEO and founder Brendan Ciecko. The system sends multimedia content and notifications to visitors based on their location in a bid to make the museum-going experience convenient and entertaining. “iBeacon technology (Apple's low energy Bluetooth technology to trigger events in iOS and Android mobile devices) enabled us to progress to a new way of delivering content and creating mobile experience,” Ciecko says.
Traditional museum guidebooks rely on numbering systems displayed near exhibit items to let visitors know what page to turn to in the paper directory or when to advance to the next recorded message on a portable audio player. Cuseum’s system replaces those numbering systems with IoT beacons that connect to an app on the visitor’s smartphone when they are in proximity to the display.
The wireless connection automates the experience for the visitor and allows the museum to update its content as needed. The beacons also work with Cuseum’s app to measure engagement with specific items on display by tracking the location and duration of each visitor’s pauses.
Assembling the Parts
Ciecko and his team built their platform from the ground up utilizing a range of tools that they were certain could deliver the required performance.
“We’ve used a variety of beacons over the years, including Estimote, Kontakt, Aruba, Sensoro, and Beeks,” Ciecko says, adding that the team focused primarily on Poland-based Estimote partly for its beacons but also for its SDK. “Estimote took an agile, developer-centric approach and built an active community of developers, in addition to iterating on both the hardware and software with a level of consistency that gave our team the assurance we needed,” he notes.
Get It Right
Early implementations of the system provided a wealth of design insights for the Cuseum team.
“The first deployments were major learning experiences for us and our customers,” Ciecko says. “In these early pilots in 2014, we were working with the first versions of beacons, their related SDKs, and a new approach to user experience design.”
Fine-tuning the beacons took time. “We tested the performance of the beacon’s signal across various configurations, positions, and mobile devices,” explains Ciecko. “Ultimately, we found the right balance between the advertising interval and broadcasting range that was dependable but didn’t drain the beacon’s battery.”
Ciecko offers advice based on his experiences to other IoT solution providers.
“One of the first things we did during our analysis of which beacon platforms we’d work with was email all of the support teams at the exact same time,” he says. “Right off the bat, we had a clear sense of how competent and responsive each provider was and would be during real-world deployments.” Some suppliers got back to Cuseum within 12 to 24 hours, Ciecko notes. Others took over a week to respond.
“When dealing with IoT platforms, there are enterprise-level providers and there are cheap, janky imitations,” Ciecko says. Screening out unresponsive vendors will help you zero in on companies that will make solid partners.
Scott Koegler is a technology journalist with 20 years’ experience writing about business, computing, and technology topics.