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All Generations Welcome: Capturing the Museum of Flight with Matterport

A virtual tour of the Aviation Pavilion

As an exhibit developer at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, my goal is to make sure visitors from all generations truly have a one of a kind experience interacting with our artifacts. Last year, we partnered with Microsoft to take our vision to the next level and allow patrons to explore our offerings like never before with Matterport’s immersive 3d tours.

In July 2016, our museum doubled its size with the opening of the Aviation Pavilion -- a newly constructed 3-acre, open-air hangar featuring some of the museum's largest and most popular aircrafts. Given the sheer size, complex navigation, and multiple levels of the aircraft in this new structure, we needed a way to ensure that all visitors regardless of age or physical abilities could experience the exhibit the same way. Finding a solution to this problem became a major project for our team, and we began looking to digital technology to find an answer.

It was Matterport photographer and experimentalist, Paolo Tosolini, who first brought the idea of scanning the aircraft interiors to our team. Using the 3D Matterport Camera, we could give visitors who were unable to access the aircraft a chance to explore them from the inside, as if they were really there.

After experimenting on the first Boeing 737, we found that the Matterport system was the solution to our problem for three major reasons:

  1. Visitors of all ages were able to easily experience and step inside our artifacts without any difficulty

  2. The image quality is exceptional even at low light and provides incredible immersion that feels as if visitors are actually there

  3. Having the tours automatically processed and hosted online helped with both budget and time costs for our museum

Using Matterport, we have scanned over 11 aircraft to date, many of which have never been physically opened to the public. Now our visitors – both on site as well as remote – are able to ‘step inside’ the cockpits and interiors of these carefully preserved artifacts through 360° immersive 3D virtual tours we provide free on our website.

Preservation of the Boeing B-17

The most impactful Matterport tour captured by our team is of the Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, named Boeing Bee.

For several years, museum restoration volunteers opened the B-17 for tours during the summer, welcoming upward of 30,000 visitors through the aircraft. This past year, the restoration crew had to make the difficult decision to close the aircraft permanently due to the damage sustained during these tours. As all museums know, supporting access to artifacts while simultaneously preserving them can be the most challenging aspect of our work.

However, the B-17 is still one our our most popular exhibits thanks to Matterport’s technology. Prior to closure, we captured the Boeing Bee in immersive 3D so that viewers from all over the world could still experience the aircraft. Thanks to a promotional campaign on social media sponsored by Microsoft, the B-17 Matterport tour has received more than 42,000 unique visitors to date.

The success of the B-17 scan goes even deeper than its visitorship and the support of preservation. The Matterport scan can be shared online by our restoration volunteers and historical speakers, many who are veterans that actually piloted B-17s during the Second World War. With Matterport, our volunteers can share their phenomenal restoration work with friends and family, while our historical speakers can share their personal stories first-hand about what it was like to fly inside the aircraft--while allowing a whole new generation to experience it the same way they did.

This past July, a new AR/VR experience was created using the Matterport OBJ and the new Apple ARKit.