Seeing a saber-toothed tiger on your TV screen is all very well and good, but what about sitting next to one on the couch?
A new David Attenborough-fronted app, Museum Alive, aims to let you do exactly that, using AR technology to turn your home environment into a prehistoric history lesson.
The app, available on iOS only so far, is an extension of Attenborough’s 2014 documentary Natural History Museum Alive, which saw the legendary naturalist walking through the London museum while CGI skeletons sprang to life around him. Museum Alive follows in this tradition on a smaller scale, using animated 3D models to conjure up miniature habitats that can be viewed through your smartphone’s camera.
The current version of the app allows users to discover three different extinct species: the smilodon (a fairly mean looking prehistoric saber-tooth), the dimorphodon (a Jurassic pterosaur), and the opabinia (a colourful little anthropod from the Paleozoic Era).
In terms of usability, the app is fittingly set-up like a miniature museum, allowing you to side swipe between the different species before picking one to learn more about. Once you’ve made your selection, you jump into AR mode, with the app inviting you to aim your phone’s camera at a flat surface that’s then transformed into the relevant habitat.
The habitat in question can be rotated and resized with the pinch of two fingers, meaning you can either place yourself close to eye-level with the creature you’re studying or zoom out and give yourself a top-down view of the scene below. Attenborough’s dulcet tones then give you a documentary-style walk-through of the species and its behaviours while an animation (for the smilodon this is a hunting sequence) plays out in front of you. After the animation has finished, you’re invited to tap various fact boxes to learn more about the species’ fossils, habitat, and place in the food chain.
“We wanted to focus on the incredible creatures that once roamed our planet but are now extinct,” app developer Elliot Graves told Mashable. “The choice of opabinia, diamorphadon, and smilodon represent over 350 million years of life, a fact that puts our life on earth in perspective. They all have such fascinating stories that we hope will inspire users to wonder at our natural world.”
It’s worth noting that although there are only three viewable species in the app’s current form, there are plans in place to expand this.
“Currently, we’re planning on bringing a dodo to the Museum alongside more story-telling with David,” said Graves. “Famously, it was an awesomely curious animal that was sadly hunted to extinction by humans alone.”
Museum Alive is available now for iPhone 8 upwards on iOS 13 and iOS 14.