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NFC Tags Give Voice to London''s Talking Statues

A collaborative project between Antenna Lab, not-for-profit arts organization Sing London and the Research Center for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester, is leveraging Near Field Communication (NFC) and mobile technologies to enable nearly 40 statues in London to speak to visitors. Talking Statues is a research and development (R&D) project that uses NFC tags affixed to the underside of plaques that are then sealed into position on the statue or the ground, according to Sam Billington, the global interactive design manager with Antenna Lab's parent organization, Antenna International. The project is utilizing RapidNFC's 50x50mm Square Reverse Ultralight tags, Billington says. The tags, made with NXP Semiconductors' Mifare Ultralight chip, are on-metal NFC tags designed specifically for use with smart posters or similar applications. "The tag is designed to be stuck to the back of the poster with the on-metal facing backwards," Billington explains.

The NFC tags work with Android devices; the plaques also feature QR codes for use with iOS phones, and a tiny URL is available that visitors can type directly into their phones. In each case, a sound file is downloaded onto the device that features a phone ring and a monologue. The monologues, written by playwrights, correspond with the statues and were recorded by various actors. For example, when a visitor engages with the plaque at the Sherlock Holmes statue on Baker Street in London, actor Ed Stoppard recites a monologue written by Anthony Horowitz.

The R&D project is designed not only to provide visitors with novel and animated history experiences, but also to examine how well NFC technology works in engaging with people. The RCMG will collect data indicating how users engage with the statues, as well as what they want when they do so—if they seek "a snippet of information, a culture bite, or something deeper and more involved"—according to a blog post on Antenna Lab's website. RCMG will harvest the data generated by the app, talk to users and report back on the level of uptake, and on how people found the experience.

The project began last month and aims to reach at least 100,000 users. According to Billington, the project is off to "a very strong and encouraging start," but it is still "too early to share" any of the data collected.