Pandemic travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders have made it difficult to access cultural experiences. But a virtual tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City could help ease some of those stuck-at-home blues.
Verizon and The Met are launching a platform that lets viewers visit the museum and see many of its famous works of art from home, an experience that can be enhanced through 5G and augmented reality technology. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg announced the partnership during a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday.
The tool, called “The Met Unframed,” is one way for Verizon to show off some of the uses for 5G — which boasts higher bandwidth, faster speeds and lower lag time than 4G LTE networks. The free platform won’t net material returns for Verizon, but it could highlight benefits for customers and businesses if they upgrade. Carriers are eager to demonstrate 5G uses after spending several years and billions of dollars building out the new network.
Art fans can access The Met Unframed via a smartphone for the next five weeks. It works on both 4G and 5G devices, though 5G users can access a special feature.
The tour begins in The Great Hall, the entrance to The Met. Users can then navigate through various galleries. Moving the phone around allows viewers to see 3D renderings of pieces of art on each wall. By clicking to enter a new room, the platform plays sounds of footsteps walking through a hushed museum. Some works of art, ranging from the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur to paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh, can be clicked on to zoom in and learn more.
Users can unlock pieces of art to “borrow” and display in their home using AR, making it look as if the artwork is hanging on the user’s wall when viewed through the phone’s camera lens. And people whose phones work on Verizon’s super-fast “wideband” 5G can access a special feature: for four pieces, the artwork will “come to life” while being projected in their home with AR — for example, figures shown in a boat appear to actually be rowing.
This type of AR rendering is “something that’s just not possible without 5G,” Vestberg said. Verizon’s wideband 5G service is available in just over 60 cities and most wireless consumers (from all carriers) have yet to upgrade to devices that work on the new network.
The digital galleries were designed to “evoke or nearly replicate” spaces within the actual museum and were created with the help of Met experts, 3D artists and the museum’s staff photographers, according to Verizon.
“Our mission since The Met’s founding 150 years ago has been to connect people to art and ideas, and to one another — something we’ve found to be more powerful than ever over these last months of isolation and uncertainty,” Max Hollein, director of The Met, said in a statement. “The Met Unframed expands the ways in which we can understand, experience and appreciate art.”
Verizon is working on a similar partnership with the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., to create 3D, augmented reality experiences allowing users to engage with its collection of historical artifacts.
The other 5G applications Vestburg discussed during his CES keynote included drone package delivery, and somewhat more niche entertainment services such as virtual concerts that let fans feel like they’re watching from the stage. The Met Unframed is one of many tech innovations designed to make pandemic life more bearable that have been unveiled during this year’s CES.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly explained the AR feature of The Met Unframed that allows users to virtually “display” art in their homes.