Earlier this month Zubr Curio launched their pioneering Augmented Reality (AR) Binoculars at the Museum + Heritage Show in a display that monopolises the best of digital and analogue combined.

To give a little background on Zubr’s subbrand, Curio combines the technical expertise of the parent company, Zubr, with the curious creativity and powerful storytelling prowess of the heritage and culture sector to design immersive and educational experiences, such their recent AR project with Upfest. Their new binoculars are also the perfect tool to deliver a light touch AR/VR experience for first-timers or tech whizzes.

The show was a big day for the renowned Bristol-based augmented and virtual reality (VR) specialists as the project was launched from the R&D phase it has been in for the past 5 years. The latest version of the binoculars only came together a few months ago – meaning the team were super excited to share the brand new, innovative product with the world. You can see a visual taste of what they got up to from the video below! 

Meet Zubr's AR Binoculars

“You simply look through them as you would ordinary binoculars, only to discover an unexpected view of a landscape, building, or even prehistoric animals roaming the local vicinity"

Amy Spreadbury, Project Manager at Zubr 

Zubr was able to meet 100s of people across the two-day show to see first hand the novel reactions elicited from the binoculars; and they weren’t disappointed. Project Manager at Zubr, Amy Spreadbury, tells us spectators were fascinated by the amalgamation of analogue and digital in this product, and they were able to have fruitful discussions on the future usage of the binoculars. A key deployment is at heritage sites, visitor attractions and museums, as Amy explains: “People in the sector immediately grasped the potential of bringing immersive tech to visitors via the old-school hardware – sparking ideas that would never be possible with conventional VR headsets.”

Making immersive tech accessible

Traditionally, immersive tech has always been used for bringing heritage sites to life and creating opportunities for education far beyond previous capabilities, but the same barriers usually reappear. VR Headsets aren’t the most user-friendly when you try them for the first time – headsets may not fit and can cause motion sickness. AR also has its issues, as it relies on users having a compatible mobile with enough data to use.

The team wanted to create a solution to these problems, retaining the unique offering immersive tech can provide, whilst ensuring the final product is universally usable. From this idea, Zubr’s hard-wearing ‘seaside pier’ binoculars were born. The non-discriminatory design means everyone, from young to old, can enjoy the experience in rain or shine, whether that means reconstructing ruins or showcasing 360 films. 

Another great thing about these binoculars is that they require almost no instructions, aside from ‘have a look!’ They also don’t require constant updating or supervision, so it really is an ideal piece of tech to enhance experiences at zoos, museums, heritage sites and other tourist attractions of a similar ilk. 

Amy tells us more about the reception of the binoculars: “[At the show] we talked about installing our binoculars in stadiums, in castles or towers to reveal an unexpected view through a window, or in gardens looking towards a ruined structure to show how it once looked. Some people wanted to install them inside: to populate a great hall with people, or add artefacts into a space where they’d once stood.

“We spoke to museum professionals, exhibition designers, collectors, PhD students, 3D artists, teachers, archaeologists, curators, and other exhibitors. Each person who approached us had a unique use case for the binoculars, and we were able to advise on how they could productively incorporate AR/VR into their work.”

“Visitors were intrigued by the possibility of loaning the binoculars temporarily or installing them for a longer period and updating the software content seasonally or in line with their changing programmes.

“We also spoke about the ease of transferring content from one medium to another. Any existing 3D or digitised museum assets can quickly be incorporated into the binoculars unit, as well as into an AR app, VR experience, social media filters, or web AR content.”

Amy tells us that ordinarily at exhibitions, the team has to explain what VR and AR is, but the binoculars brought a new sense of clarity to the table for visitors, as Amy explains: “You simply look through them as you would ordinary binoculars, only to discover an unexpected view of a landscape, building, or even prehistoric animals roaming the local vicinity!”

Creating a new way for VR & AR to be experienced

Amy explains that the demand for an analogue alternative to tech heavy immersive experience has been in high demand for a long time. Zubr has been approached from across the globe for hardware like their binoculars for years, but has only recently been able to make the product a reality. 

She says, “After installing several prototypes at temporary exhibitions and events, we began creating custom hardware that transforms pier-style binoculars into VR or AR headsets. Our latest units include specialised lenses, robust hardware, and customised software – everything you need to create accessible augmented or virtual reality content, even for the least tech-savvy user.”

After such a process, showcasing the binoculars at the Museum + Heritage Show was the perfect place to share the finished product. Zubr hopes the binoculars will be used at historic sites, visitor attractions or museums eager to embrace the possibility of augmented or virtual reality but perhaps aren’t sure where to begin. Amy adds, “Our binoculars provide a light touch AR/VR experience without needing extensive instructions and without limiting visitor footfall. Everyone – from children to technophobes – intuitively understands how to use binoculars, making our units the perfect way to dip a toe into a virtual world. 

“We’re keen to work with the heritage and culture sector so they can benefit from AR/VR without the downsides of investing in high-tech, low-impact solutions like loaning VR headsets to visitors or asking them to download heavy-data apps.”

Thanks to Zubr for sharing this story with us. If you’re intrigued about the AR Binoculars and want to see them in action, make sure to take a look at the video!