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Texas AR Exhibit Explores Paleoanthropology

How big players came together to create a unique museum piece and AR experience.


A new exhibit at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science uses augmented reality to introduce visitors to paleoanthropology. Paleoanthropology, the study of prehistoric peoples, is fascinating but can also be a difficult and intimidating topic for beginners.

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The exhibition uses AR to enhance the display and includes a giant, multi-person AR experience designed by studio Groove Jones.

Origins augmented reality

How It Came Together

Groove Jones is a multi-talented tech company specializing in VR and AR experiences, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Historically, most of their partnerships have been with consumer brands. However, for the Origins: Fossils from the Cradle of Humankind interactive experience, they worked with the Perot Museum, National Geographic, and The University of the Witwatersrand.

The Origins exhibit features the remains of two fossilized skeletons discovered by researchers from the University. Those fossils represent two species of early humans, Australopithicus sediba and Homo naledi.

The monthslong exhibition at the Perot Museum is the first of its kind in North America in roughly six years.

More traditional aspects of the exhibit are augmented with light projections, adding depth to the art and information. However, the real tech comes in for a larger AR experience.

A Unique AR Experience…

origins augmented reality experience dig

In addition to the conventional exhibit, there is a huge in-door replica of the dig site where researchers discovered the fossils.

On entering, visitors receive a tablet, with a custom-built AR app called ARTIFAX. Pointing the tablet at the ground yields images similar to those seen by researchers using ground-penetrating equipment. Then, the users’ tablets guide each user to their own fossil.

Origins AR experience fossil found

Once users have found their fossil, they can bring them to a research tent. There, they have the opportunity to learn more about the mock fossil that they have found.

As many as ten users can access the AR experience at a time. After they’re done with the AR experience, users receive a certificate of completion, with their name and photo.

origins experience tent

…Makes for a Unique Museum Experience

Often, we see AR experiences meant to expand interest to new audiences. However, most of the people visiting the Perot Museum are already sufficiently interested in paleontology. They don’t really need any fancy tech to draw them in.

Nevertheless, that’s not to say that fancy tech hurts the exhibit. On the contrary.

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Between the work Groove Jones put in and the Herculean effort of turning a museum into a dig site, Origins is a very unique experience. While any exhibit can be educational, not all of them can be hands-on. And precious few can be hands-on in the way that Origins is hands-on.

Origins: Fossils from the Cradle of Humankind will be open at the Perot Museum of Natural History in Dallas Texas until March 22.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.