Virtual Exhibitions knowledge exchange project
This collaborative project explores the potential of new generation 360VR technology for the cultural and education sectors, using UCL Museums as a pilot.

Using a VR headset in UCL's Flaxman Gallery

The Virtual Exhibitions knowledge exchange project was launched in July 2021, and focuses on how new technology can be adapted for blended and remote learning for academic and museum audiences, enabling people to engage with collections in new ways, wherever they are in the world.

It brings together the expertise, ideas and skills of highly specialised teams from across the university, including UCL’s Museums, UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and AI start-up Kagenova.

The research team comprised of:

Principal investigator: Dr Nina Pearlman, Head of UCL Art Collections, Co Investigators: Professor Andy Hudson-Smith, Director of Digital Urban Systems,  Dr Valerio Signorelli, Lecturer in Connected Environments, Dr Leah Lovett, Senior Researcher, Project partner: Professor Jason McEwen, Founder & CEO, Kagenova & Professor of Astrostatistics, UCL

About the project

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Today’s immersive experiences typically provide either realism or interactivity, but rarely at the same time (web-based 360 degree virtual tours of museums are a good example of this).

However, cultural users need to be able to experience museum collections in a realistic way online, while also interacting with them in genuine and meaningful ways. One of the goals of this project was to better understand users’ digital needs to enable us to explore how we could meet them using Kagenova’s innovative technology.

To achieve this, we conducted desk research on the use of immersive technologies in arts and science. We also made many captures using 360 VR technology of UCL’s cultural spaces, explored technical and site challenges and evaluated the student user experience of a pilot that was created.

Where are we now?

Technologies that deliver virtual immersive environments are in constant flux. The technology that was employed in this project, copernic worlds, has been superseded by copernic AI as Kagenova leverages their underlying technology deliver AI driven 3D generative worlds.  The teams at CASA continue to advance research in the area of connected environments, exploring new technologies that connect the physical and digital worlds. UCL Art Museum teams continue to work in collaboration with data and computer scientists and are currently exploring the application of touchless computing in museums, with colleagues and students in UCL Computer Science.

Project background

Technology moves fast and forward. For many of us, the pandemic has caused the boundaries between our home, work and leisure lives to combine. Whatever our individual exposure levels to technology has been, we have all experienced some form of a metaverse (virtual reality spaces in which you can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users). This is also true for visitors of cultural organisations.

UCL is home to a number of museums and exhibition spaces. Over time, they have evolved to fulfil a wide range of functions, from supporting academic research and learning to entertainment. Like many small museums, they are under pressure to create new, engaging digital experiences for the students and communities they serve.

In the future, small museums need to create digital products that can bridge these physical and virtual worlds to meet their audiences’ needs. Unfortunately, they often don’t have the budget or infrastructure to compete with national museums when developing new digital products and services. However, through their connections with the wider higher education research communities, university museums are in a unique position to respond to these issues in creative way.

About the partners
UCL Museums

UCL is home to a number of world-class museums and collections, including UCL Art Museum, the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology. Its team takes a multidisciplinary approach to engage with its users through innovative programming and support for research, teaching and object-based enquiry.


Kagenova was established by data scientists from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory. The company has developed novel geometric AI and machine learning methods that derive from cutting-edge celestial research poised to transform the 360VR user experience.


The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) is an interdisciplinary research institute at UCL focusing on the science of cities and is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Researchers from CASA have been exploring virtual environments for many years with a focus on technological innovation and accessibility.

Funding partners

This knowledge exchange project is supported by UCL’s Higher Innovation Fund (HEIF), managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. The partnership has been facilitated by the Business and Innovation Partnerships team within UCL Innovation & Enterprise.


This project has enabled UCL to have a better understanding of museums’ digital needs, the conditions required to meet these and who needs to be part of the conversation. It has also allowed Kagenova to gain a better understanding of how its innovative 360 technology could work in other sectors.

As a process, it reinforced our belief in the value of knowledge exchange in fuelling experimentation and innovation. It can lead you to unexpected places and discoveries. Building on UCL’s strength in innovation, the learnings from this project are being disseminated and shared across cultural and technology networks, the education sector and the media. It has been presented at a number of conferences, including Discovering Collections Discovering Communities organised by National Archives, Research Libraries UK and JISC and the EdTech Summit.

Without this project, these learnings would be either logistically impossible or prohibitively expensive to achieve individually. Lastly, it has led to future spin off knowledge exchange projects, including further research into copyright and digital technology.

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