Museums and 360° Technology

I have recently started to get more interested in 360° image use in museums. There are big projects out there that use high-end, expensive technology. They want to show off art in high resolution.

Google Arts and Culture, for example, is an ambitious effort to “…take a virtual tour of some of the world’s greatest museums and heritage sites.” There are over 2,220 sites listed. The museum projects are based on Google Street Views to navigate within museums.


There’s also the very impressive Met 360° Project by the Metropolitan Museum of New York which includes 360° tours of the Great Hall, the Temple of Dendur, the Charles Engelhard Court, the Arms and Armor Galleries, and more.


Google and The Met are just two impressive examples of 360° technology being implemented in museums.

Low-cost Equipment?

Using these types of projects got me curious, however, about what’s possible with low-cost equipment like the RICOH THETA. In concept, a THETA is most likely combined with Google Street Views and viewed in Google Cardboard. The THETA is mentioned prominently on Google’s site for building 360° street views, and it is the only 360° camera that Google supports for 360° video.

But there are multiple different ways you could use a THETA and build virtual tours that immerse views in museum exhibitions.

In particular, if you are showing things and places – as opposed to showing high-rez details of a famous piece of art – a low-cost 360° camera may be an excellent option.

Some Examples

The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) wanted to make the museum more accessible to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), allowing them to familiarize themselves with the museum before they arrive.

They found out that (1) Google Street Views can be used indoors, (2) you don’t need to hire a Trusted Pro, (3) that a 360° camera works better than normal images, and (4) ultimately, once you get started, it “isn’t rocket science.”

So the technology side is not too daunting, but there were still plenty of issues. Taking pictures with or without the photographer in them, including or not including other museum visitors in the pictures, handling two levels (Ground and First Floor) in Google Street Views, appropriate distance between photospheres, and much more.

Adam Koszary, who manages the Arts Council England digital project between Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life, believes the setup full accomplished its goals:

The aim of publishing our museum on Google Streetview is to prepare people for what to expect at the Museum. It definitely accomplishes that.

We considered photos and video, and have these options available too, but nothing beats Streetview for giving the full picture. People already use Google and Streetview, and it meant we could also embed the tour on our website.

With our planning, testing and re-runs the whole process probably took us three full days of work. If you know what you need to capture, organise a day for photography and dedicate the day to editing the photos then you could easily get a museum the size of the MERL done in a day’s work.

Here is Koszary’s full Explanation of how MERL built their site using a RICOH THETA S and Google Street Views).

Another example is the Waterloo Region Museum. It is the largest community museum in Ontario, Canada, with two indoor museum galleries and a 60 acre living history exhibit called Doon Heritage Village, the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame, and a War Memorial with a virtual list of the names of all those from Waterloo County/Region who have given their lives for their country. You can walk around inside the Waterloo Region Museum’s Main Gallery. This short taste of the museum’s wealth of interesting exhibits was built with inexpensive equipment using THETA and

Types of 360° Museum Tours and Apps

Locally, in San Francisco, I have used the SFMOMA mobile app (iOS only). It does not use 360° images; it has focused more on location-based audio tours, so that the tour is specific to the exact object d’art that you are standing in front of. I can see the potential for creating a 360° tour that follows a floor plan very specifically.

Using the SFMOMA app made me realize there are many different types of tours and apps that could be built using 360° cameras.

The Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums has written about “Museums and the matrix of place-based augmented devices” (Museum Magazine, Sept/Oct 2017). The article is based on their TrendsWatch 2016 report (complimentary – registration required – download available here). Starting from page 23, there is extensive information AR/VR museum applications.

Based on the Mooshme Matrix categories (“Augmented Wearables and the Future of Museums”) they split the various types of apps into the following four categories:

The Art++ augmented reality app at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford uses image recognition to create a “digital halo” of supplemental multimedia information around a photo, painting or sculpture. The project was made possible by support from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between Stanford and Columbia University dedicated to innovative storytelling.

The Courtauld Gallery in London is one of the earliest adopters of WoofbertVR, an app that will profile collections from around the world. The Courtauld tour gets an extra popularity boost from narrator Neil Gaiman, who is also an investor in Woofbert. Woofbert represents a collaboration between technologists Microsoft is testing proof of concept for RoomAlive—the first working holodeck.

While Hololens (a device that provides shared AR experiences) is not yet commercially available, in March 2015 the Mondrian 3D Museum provocatively tweeted “Meeting with @microsoft about #hololens #museums #3D, looking forward to making next generation of #education and #art in #realmuseums.” Stay tuned?

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) organized a performance by artist Jon Rafman that took place in the online virtual world Second Life (SL), in conjunction with the exhibit “Mirror Stage: Visualizing the Self After the Internet.” DMA audiences were invited to log in and attend, via avatar, a tour of hidden corners of SL, guided by Rafman’s online persona, “Kool- Aid Man.”


Examples of 360° Museum Tours

I’ve started to collect a list of museums that explicitly use the RICOH THETA. If you have contributions to the list, please let me know, I will add them.

  • Museum of English Modern Life (MERL), managed by the University of Reading, UK - Explores “how the skills and experiences of farmers and craftspeople, past and present, can help shape our lives now and into the future. We work alongside rural people, local communities and specialist researchers to create displays and activities that engage with important debates about the future of food and the ongoing relevance of the countryside to all our lives.” VIrtual Tour using Google Street Views.

  • Waterloo Region Museum (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) - Is the largest community museum in Ontario, telling the story of Waterloo Region, includes the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame and a War Memorial with a virtual list of the names of all those from Waterloo County/Region who have given their lives for their country.

  • The Getty Museum (Los Angeles) - The Getty “works to make a lasting difference in art historical research, conservation and museum practice, and to promote knowledge and appreciation of art.” This VR project focused on the “The Tapestries of Louis XIV in 360 Degrees” [LINK BROKEN]

  • City Museum (St. Louis) - “An eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects. The brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur, the museum opened for visitors in 1997 to the riotous approval of young and old alike.”

  • Henry Miller Museum (St. Louis) - A museum honoring Henry Miller. “At a time of terrifyingly high mortality rates and paltry pay in the new field of electrical work, Henry Miller knew what needed to be done, and he dedicated his life to making it happen. From the boarding house where he lived almost 125 years ago, the lineman founded the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which would later become the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.” Documenting demolition and reconstruction in 360°.

  • The Vertebrate Museum (Oregon) - “The Vertebrate Museum houses everything from armadillos to Zonotrichia. The museum documents regional diversity through the acquisitions of teaching specimens by faculty, staff and students. The Vertebrate Museum is not just for scientists, we welcome K-20 classes to tour our facilities.”

Special thanks to community member and Google Trusted Photographer @Svendus for pointing to Google Arts and Culture

Cool @jcasman Google have had this for a couple of years

Svendus, this is great, I’ll add it to the article before I publish. In general, I’m focusing on museums that have used the RICOH THETA as part of their virtual tours or mobile apps. Do you know of any?

@jcasman sorry i misunderstood you we made a Theta Tour @hallands konstmuseum but they wanted to let it stay intern not Public

You can see a little on this link

NoteThis was a payed job and when you transfer the copy rights the Client get their own icon on the images

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Svendus, that’s really cool, didn’t know you were doing paid jobs using the RICOH THETA. I guess this is part of your work as a Trusted Google Photographer?

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Yes we can be hired here for Google 360 Street view tours
But paid jobs are mostly high Resolution

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Hi guys,

I am a docent at the Angel Island Immigration Station located in San Francisco Bay and have started to create a Virtual Tour using photos and also Theta …definitely not HiRes…

I have been in contact with Google Culture, many hurdles to overcome on who owns what etc…ie

Here’s what i sent to Google Arts and Culture…

Any help / advice would be great::

  1. to host on Website

  2. show on a device such as iPAD WITHOUT WIthout WIFI for showing “on the road”

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Jesse, would be glad to take you out to Angel island Immigration Station for a tour if you’d like…

Ben Lee

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Great to hear about your idea for a project using a THETA, happy to talk through ideas with you. Maybe doing a phone call to talk through some ideas would be easiest. I’ve hiked past the Angel Island Immigration Station multiple times. Very interested in the kind of information you have there.

Just a few quick questions first:

  • Why do you want to use a 360° camera?
  • What kind of information are you showing? The Angel Island Immigration Station, physical items, photographs…?
  • Do you have a deadline? In other words, is this a rush?
  • Have you built any websites or mobile apps before (with 360° images or not)?


  • What kind of THETA do you have?

If you’d like to do a phone call this week, please DM me and we can exchange details.


Hi Jesse,


Would love to chat…what would be best time for you?

I have a Theta S for about 1 year and have used it on trips overseas, etc…

For Angel island, want to use 360 to rotate around some of the rooms with poems on the walls and then zoom in to see them…there’s about 300-400 poems written on the walls,

So the poems on the walls is really what I want to focus on…with the Theta app it’s been really nice, Google is fine too, but need connectivity.

For presentations to schools without good wifi…want to use standalone on iPAD but no apps like Powerpoint yet to integrate Theta App…

here’s my website

No no deadline, would like to

Let me know best way to do DM

I’m also a History docent at the Oakland Museum of California…so may want to do that next…

Thanks so much Jesse

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for support… posted some info on Blog community area.

Here’s my phone if you have time to connect by text and then phone


Ben Lee


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Several days ago, I had a discuss on a facebook group about something similar. Someone ask if the professional photography is dead because the 360 cameras, anyone now can use it and lots of business are no willing to pay the price for high quality.

After lots of discussing we agreed that not all business have big budget to pay professional photography. They prefer to begin with a low budget and start exploring , like you said in this article:

“The aim of publishing our museum on Google Streetview is to prepare people for
what to expect at the Museum. It definitely accomplishes that”

If business later are seeing some good “return of investment” , they will hire a professional for better photos.

Like owner of a little service of low cost of creation virtual tours, I see it all the time. Clients send emails if they can create tours with only 360 cameras. In general they are small musuems and galleries of art.

For example these 2:

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These are great examples! The first one, Museo Nacional de Antropología, looks like Google Street Views but it has a cool way of placing a photo icon that allows for a “close up” view and more info on specific pieces of art, and after you’ve clicked on it once, it shows a check mark that it’s been viewed. Very cool! Is this possible in regular Google Street Views? I haven’t seen this before.

The second one, El Zoológico Zoochilpan, is great with the upbeat music, the big leopard head with the tequilla stand inside, people relaxing and walking around, and ton more.

Do you know that these sites were built with RICOH THETA images?



I sent emails to the users asking that information but they didn’t use Ricoh Theta in those cases. But There are lots of users using RICOH THETA on paneek. For example this school is using RICOH THETA:

Is not a museum but you get the idea that people are creating tour of all types with the RICOH TETHA on paneek. I can tell you that is on the top camera use on my service.

Your question has given me a good idea… I will start saving the Metadata on Database of each image uploaded, in this way I will have good information about what are using.

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Oh, wow, thanks for checking those two previous examples. Really appreciate it. This example of La Villa Romana is interesting. How did you find it? Is there a good way to look at the metadata of images easily for these types of virtual tours? I’d like to be able to search for more THETA content.


How did you find it?

I checked the metadata of the image uploaded.

Is there a good way to look at the metadata of images easily for these types of virtual tours?

Easy Not. All images are on my server, so now the only way to do it is manually checking the metadata .

Like I told you, Thanks to your previous comment I will start saving the metadata on Database in order to have this useful information.

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Yea, that’s my experience, too. I’m able to do it, but it’s very manual. If you run into any more, please let me know!

Thanks to Jesse for encouragment…here’s a shot at the Angel Island Immigration Barracks Tour using Round Me…

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Thanks for tips on Paneek…have uploaded a few shots but doesn’t seem to have option to zoom in as Round Me.

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@benklee I think both the Roundme and the Google Photos tours you sent work really well. The pictures are clear, it’s easy to navigate, it gives a cool perspective being able to look around. I don’t have a clear feel of walking around in some ordered way, which may or may not be important. But connecting the photos to a floor plan or having a way to navigate directly from one image to the next (like you’re walking to the next spot) should be easy to set up.

Great pictures!