Planet Word is the world’s first voice-activated museum of language. To communicate ideas about something as incorporeal yet important as language, its founder Ann Friedman modeled the museum after science and technology museums instead of traditional humanities-based museums. The result is an exhibition program that sets a new bar for visitor engagement.
Throughout the exhibits, visitors use their voices to interact, while hearing from a diverse cast of leaders, authors, and orators who share what language means to them. The team used Microsoft Azure STT in the development of the natural language processing for all voice-activated exhibits, and a highly-tailored corpus of word recognizers was specifically built to help be inclusive of people with different speech patterns, age differences, and accents.
Every one of Planet Word’s immersive galleries features iconic, participatory experiences, including:
The introductory gallery, Where Do Words Come From?, is a wall of over 1,000 three-dimensional words that come to life when visitors speak aloud. The exhibit narrator responds with a lively combination of sound and animation, sharing surprising origin stories of particular words, and addressing stereotypes and misconceptions about how language works — for example, the idea that “ain’t ain’t a word”.
The gallery required the precise projection mapping of over 1,000 physical letters with different depths. Six projectors installed at different distances with 2 types of projection lenses needed to be synchronized through in-depth testing. The show control logic for the exhibit is handled by Medialon, cued by 8 unique voice inputs handled by our custom speech control logic. The show is also nonlinear: there are ~24 different paths to choose from. We use special transducers inside the wall itself to create the effect of narration emanating from the wall.
The Library is a magical place where the wonders of imagination and literature collide. Visitors pull an RFID-tagged book from a shelf, place it in a special “cradle” on the long library-like reading table before them and watch as characters, settings, and important moments come to life in front of their eyes. As birds fly, basketballs bounce, and Alice falls down the rabbit hole, visitors hear cinematic narration that describes what makes each book special, as well as original audio of authors describing why they wrote these beloved works of literature.
In the Word Worlds gallery, visitors use a smart paintbrush built using a real paint brush head, custom 3D printed handle, and HTC Vive spacial tracker to “paint” with descriptive words like “hibernal” and “crepuscular.” As visitors move their brushes along the wall, the landscape comes to life with imagery, motion, and sound effects that reflect the meaning of that particular word.
The Spoken World boasts a stunning 4,800-LED kinetic sculpture. The spectacle is in service of creating personal, face-to-face experiences with native speakers from 6 continents, who demonstrate what is unique about 28 different languages — many of them rare or endangered — and two signed languages. Because the historic Great Hall in which the exhibit is housed is also the museum’s primary event space, the globe sculpture folds in on itself and recedes into the ceiling to become a programmable chandelier for events. The folding mechanism was inspired in part by the toy known as the Hoberman sphere.
During planning, we resolved that every experience must address one or more Common Core standards. With these measures in place, every experience fits seamlessly with curricula across grade levels.
Despite opening during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Planet Word attendance exceeded expectations, with visitors enthusiastically reserving free passes in advance for a reduced-capacity experience that put visitor safety first. Passes for the first week sold out in under two hours.
Exhibit Designer: Local Projects
Media Producer: Local Projects
Exhibit Fabricator: Solomon Group
AV Integrator: Solomon Group
Building Renovation Architect: BBB Architects
Other partners include: Hypersonic, SH Acoustics, Jeremy S. Bloom Sound Design, My Active Driveway, Zumm Studios