Smart Museums: How RFID is Making its Mark


RFID’s ability to digitally identify and associate objects offers great potential for modern business applications. One area where RFID is being used in innovative ways is the museum industry.

As museums progress into an age of technology, there are numerous security and business challenges that can be overcome via RFID applications. Below are examples of how RFID is being applied in museums and is revolutionizing the industry overall.

Museum Security

Throughout the 1990’s, French art thief Stéphane Breitwieser stole countless artworks from European museums. By the time he was apprehended, Breitwieser had amassed a multi-million dollar collection. However, many of these pieces were destroyed in a cover-up attempt, resulting in priceless items being lost forever. Perhaps, museum-goers would still be enjoying these stolen works today, if RFID enabled loss prevention solutions were as cost-effective in the early 1990s as they are now.

Unlike Breitwieser, art thieves of today have many obstacles standing in their way. By setting up RFID-enabled security systems in museums, valuable display items can detect disturbances or unwarranted movement. In addition to anti-theft, RFID systems can be used for inventory purposes and, with the addition of sensors, can monitor atmospheric conditions.

Monitoring and Tracking Displays Within a Museum

Tagging artwork, displays, and artifacts and establishing read zones throughout the museum enables near real-time location monitoring and tracking. The National Museum of China uses RFID in this way to keep tabs on museum artifacts and collect data. The Museum then uses this data to create work orders, optimizing the staff’s time.

Readers can also be set up at key points throughout the museum, such as entrances, exits, and windows, so that when art passes these points an alert is triggered. By tagging a display’s frame or protective case, pieces themselves can also become sensitive to touch or movement and can trigger an alarm if someone gets too close. Additionally, if thieves try to remove an item’s RFID tag, this can send out an alert that the piece is being tampered with.

RFID is also used to monitor the atmospheric conditions of museum items. The MET in NYC uses RFID and sensor monitoring capabilities in this way to track moisture and temperature levels surrounding delicate artworks.

Monitoring and Tracking Displays Outside of a Museum

Oftentimes, displays are shared amongst museums or go on traveling exhibits. Because these items are frequently moved, they are especially susceptible to being lost, damaged, or stolen. RFID can efficiently account for the safe transportation of these items.

If displays or collections are on hiatus between museums, RFID can also be used to track pieces as they move in and out of museums and storage facilities. Because tags do not have to be within the reader’s line of sight to be read, the use of RFID can cut down on how often these pieces are handled unnecessarily during inventory, protecting displays from avoidable damage.

Museum Immersion

Use of RFID in museums can not only improve the security of artwork, but overall guest experiences as well. In order to stay relevant in the ever-expanding world of automation, museums are turning to RFID and other technologies to transform exhibits into interactive experiences. Below are three museums using RFID to enhance exhibits and engage audiences.

1. The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. uses RFID to create the ultimate spy experience and teach things like historical secrets, the art of cryptology, and the use of true-life gadgets. As guests start their journey through the museum, they receive an undercover mission and assume a cover identity. Guests are also given an RFID-enabled lanyard that can be used to interact with kiosks and track their progress throughout the museum. Museum-goers can later access their personal score sheets online to see how they performed.

2. Hershey Story Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Milton Hershey’s Life Story exhibit at the Hersey Story Museum in Pennsylvania is now more enjoyable thanks to RFID. Previously, this exhibit was a simple viewing and walking tour, but it now features four interactive, RFID-enabled kiosks. Guests are given a wooden coin embedded with an RFID chip that triggers kiosk interactions and can pick from 32 different stories depicting Milton Hersey’s life.

3. The Ambrosiana Art Gallery in Milan, Italy

The Ambrosiana Art Gallery recently upgraded their guest experience by allowing visitors to check out RFID-enabled smartphones. These phones read and relay information from NFC tags placed near artwork on gallery walls. Guests can then use the smartphones to learn more about each piece of art and find corresponding prints in the gift shop. The museum hopes that adding this technology will help attract younger audiences.


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