'Museum in a Box' Brings Interactive Museum Collections to Classrooms

Museum in a Box, Vimeo
Museum in a Box, Vimeo

Museums hold a wealth of information, but they're not always accessible to everyone. Visiting a museum takes time, money, and opportunity. Even if you make it to a museum, most collections are so vast that only a tiny fraction of the collection is available to view. But a new initiative aims to make it easier for museums to reach schools and communities outside the exhibition gallery.

Museum in a Box is essentially a mini interactive exhibit that can be sent out to schools and other organizations that serve kids. Each box comes with a Raspberry Pi computer, a speaker, an amplifier, and a near-field communication (NFC) reader—like the kind that lets you pay with your phone at retail checkouts. Museums and cultural institutions can then add their own objects for kids to learn about using that technology, whether it's 3D-printed versions of statues from the museum's collections, postcards, puzzles, or anything else curators think kids might want to see. Students can place these objects on top of the box, triggering the NFC reader to start playing a recording related to the object.

How it works from Museum in a Box on Vimeo.

Much of the content museums might want to include in a box might already be digitized on the institution's website or in its collections, but the box provides a tangible, curated way to present it. For a prototype designed for the Smithsonian Institution, for instance, the Museum in a Box team created Frogs in a Box, combining photographs of North American frogs from the Smithsonian collection with a narrated collection of frog-sound field recordings produced by Smithsonian Folkways in 1958. When you tap a postcard featuring a species of frog on the top of the box, it plays audio from Sounds of North American Frogs, including the commentary from a herpetologist and recordings of frog calls.

Though much of the work is still in the prototype phase, the Museum in a Box team has been commissioned to create boxes for institutions like the Barnsley Museums in the UK, the University of Melbourne, and the Swedish National Heritage Board.

A Museum in a Box with red flowers designed for the Jewish Museum London
A Museum in a Box designed for the Jewish Museum London
Museum in a Box

The technology isn't necessarily limited to museum collections, though. Another prototype Museum in a Box, this one aimed at language learners, allows users to place flash cards featuring different words on top of the box to trigger recordings of native speakers pronouncing those words. The team is also developing a pilot for a DIY box that would let kids come up with their own themes and content for a box. You can currently support that project on Crowdfunder.

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test

iStock.com/gargantiopa
iStock.com/gargantiopa

Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.

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