Innovative Practices 2014 on Accessibility

Haptic and tactile museum experience

Creation of a haptic computer technology which enables blind and visually impaired museum visitors to ‘touch’ 3-D scans of museum artefacts. The objects have been digitised and are presented with multimedia information support.

“This new haptic system gives all our visitors a new way to touch and explore very accurate 3-D scans of museum objects, at their own pace.”

About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:Virtual object handling in museums
Organisation:Manchester Museum
Touch and Discover Systems Ltd.
of origin
United Kingdom
Beneficiaries targeted Persons with visual impairments
Approach/ model/ solution:Haptic interactive museum experience through 3-D scans


  • 10-20 visitors a day use the haptic ‘Probos unit’
  • In 2014 four more objects will be added:
    – 2 objects from Manchester Museum, UK
    – 1 object from Yale Peabody Museum, USA
    – 1 object from the British Museum, UK
  • Shortlisted for the category ‘best innovation’ in the UK’s Museums & Heritage Awards (2013)


Museum artefacts are usually displayed behind glass or are often too fragile, small, heavy or valuable to handle physically or even touch. In a museum most things are for display only, and rarely can an object or replica be touched or held. In order to create a haptic sensational museum experience and find out more about an object, this system allows visitors to touch precious objects which are usually unlikely to be handled.


The Probos unit offers the chance to have a 3-D tactile experience of museum objects through fingertip discovery. The system features high-quality 3-D scans of an object and offers additional audio/multimedia information and the ability to magnify and zoom in on details. It is possible to feel details like cracks on the surface according to the magnification and it is possible to differentiate materials from the sound they make.


A prototype was installed at the Manchester Museum in 2012. Throughout the design and development process, blind and partially sighted persons were closely involved to make the technology as accessible and ‘user-friendly’ as possible. It is planned to introduce additional, enhanced accessibility features in future and to enable other museums to produce and share their own haptic content in future. Interest has been shown by major national museums (The Victoria and Albert Museum), local museums throughout the UK (Potteries Museum) and international institutions (Art Beyond Sight Institute, New York). The project is funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

70_Virtual object handling_Manchester Museum_PhotoThe Probos unit offers the chance to enjoy a 3-D tactile experience of museum objects through fingertip discovery.


Manchester Museum
Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK
+44 (0) 1612752677


Top marks from:
• all voters
Top marks for:
• targeting persons with physical disabilities

Nominated by: Nick MERRIMAN, Manchester Museum