Broad stripes and bright stars

By Megan Smith

I’m a bona fide gadget geek, but when it comes to exhibitions, I’m a little more of a skeptic. Though I’ve seen some masterful uses of technology, I’ve also seen too many examples of museums using gizmos just for the sake of using gizmos. I hate that.

What I love is when we can use technology to convey information more elegantly, while sparking your imagination and curiosity. Case in point? The Star-Spangled Banner interactive table.

The interactive table was born from the convergence of a couple of things: an extra nook in the gallery space that became available; an extremely high-resolution image of the flag that was created for research and conservation purposes; and a desire to answer questions you have about the flag while you’re looking at it. We struggled with this last part. As I’ve talked about before, the low light levels in the viewing area make it hard to add labels for you to read without creating all kinds of reflections in the glass that will ruin your ability to see the flag.

Star-Spangled Banner Interactive Table Prototype So, our exhibition designers proposed using the nearby nook and the photo to create an interactive table. The table is a simple Corian surface, fifteen feet wide, four feet deep, and at a ten degree angle (just like the flag!). Two projectors display the high-resolution image of the flag at actual size, while infrared cameras pick up movement on and around the table. A hundred and fifteen hotspots are scattered across the image of the flag, which floats gently across the table. When you touch a hotspot, information pops up—including detailed images, behind-the scenes information, and historical facts. Multiple people can select hotspots at the same time. You can also control the movement of the flag by sliding it in a different direction.

We had the opportunity to test a prototype of the table a few weeks ago, and it left all of us “sophisticated professionals” in awe. You can see the prototype here—it’s half as long as the final table will be. It’s the closest most of us are ever going to get to touching the Star-Spangled Banner. Can’t wait for you to get your hands on it.

Megan Smith is an Education Specialist on the Star-Spangled Banner gallery team.