A few months back, I got the privilege to speak to Paul Burke, CEO of Guru, a new tech startup that has created some amazing apps for several museums around the country.
Guru creates custom, interactive mobile apps that enhance museum tours and add a previously unseen amount of depth to the experience.
During our Skype conversation, Mr. Burke talked about how he originally came up with the idea for the Guru app. He said:
One of the origins of the idea was I took my niece and nephew on a trip to Rome for spring break. We were going to all the museums…and they didn’t want to do the old audio tours because they thought it was gross that hundreds of thousands of people had also put them against their ears. They were on their cellphones, and at one point I got mad at them and I said ‘Look guys, you’re here. Enjoy this.’ Then they showed me up…showed me that they were actually googling to find out more information about the things in the museum. And that was one of the first times the light bulb went off.
Thus, Guru was born. However, Guru isn’t the run of the mill software development firm. They strive to create unique experiences for each museum, and the company even recreates historic events with augmented reality using just your smartphone.
“There’s a famous story of FDR going on a trip on the [USS] Iowa,” Burke explained, “so you’re going to see FDR walking up to you and shaking your hand…We really try to enhance experiences and bring it to life for our partners.”
This is all accomplished through beacon technology. Essentially, when your smartphone has the app installed, these beacons communicate with your device and decide where you are in the museum.
Based on that information, the Guru app’s UI adjusts to your location to give you new information and interactive features.
It isn’t just young people who love the new apps. Older generations are also appreciative of the new features.
At the San Diego Museum of Art…an eighty-year old member had been a long-time supporter of the museum, and she called to thank them. She had been a member for the last 25 years, but couldn’t attend for the past five. But now she has a way to access them.
What kind of impact do you think technology like this will have on education in general?
One of my hopes is…that this provides kids with more “Aha!” moments…getting kids to see that math and science are actually really cool…We’re trying to trick people into learning…We are hoping that teachers and schools will be able to use these in classrooms at some point too.
Are you planning or developing any apps that focus on particular learning disabilities?
That’s something we’ve been talking a lot about. We only launched in February, so we’re still pretty new. We’re still focused on getting our core product really nailed down and making sure the beacon technology works. One of our next steps is to look at how we can help with disabilities learn…so that’s definitely one of the things we’ve been talking about here. We haven’t figured out any of the steps yet, but it’s something we’re thinking about.
A lot of industries are still turned off by mobile technology. Have you had any problems finding museum partners that want this technology?
No, actually…I’m surprised how much traction we gained. We are in talks for fifty museums now. The process with museums is slower than other industries, but there is a lot of interest out there.
Who are your next partners, and where do you see the company going from here?
We were approached by the Little Italy Association here in San Diego, and they really want to create more tours for people who visit. We’re actually partnering with them and…we’re adding culinary tours through restaurants and mystery tours. It’ll be really cool and different and we’re really excited about it…We were in Australia earlier this year , and we’re talking to three museums pretty seriously over there. We’re really excited to see where 2016 takes us.
Do you think you will create interactive experiences for other institutes?
Really, right now we’re laser-focused. That’s because the museum industry is enormous. There were over 850 million museum visitors in 2013. That’s more than all sporting events combined. It’s a really huge market and, to be totally honest with you, a military museum versus an art museum versus a history museum are all very, very different. To me, it’s enough of a challenge to navigate this in and of itself. We’re also focused on education, so we are trying to stay focused on museums and educational institutions
It seems Guru is already making huge changes in the way we experience museum exhibits. In a few years, interactive experiences may be the new standard, and we will have Guru to thank for it.