A local entrepreneur is changing the way people tour museums – with one touch of a screen.
Chris May owns Mid Arctic Technology Solutions, which provides network support, phone services and wireless Internet to local businesses.
He has launched another business, called Interpretour, in late May. This time around, he’s tapped into the museum market.
He invented a product called “Interpretour for Exhibits,” which gives museum visitors an interactive tour of artifacts that includes video, audio and a written description on a smart tablet.
Although audio tours or smart tablets are not uncommon in museums, Interpretour is different because it works with a tagging system, which does not require the Internet, said May.
One must simply line up two symbols: one on the tablet to one on the artifact, to bring up a screen that gives additional information on the artifact, allowing museum directors to customize their tours.
For example, at an exhibit of Victoria Faulkner’s hats in the MacBride Museum, the smart tablet revealed details on Faulkner’s life. “You can already find out who she was without an extensive sign up like this,” May said, pointing to a poster beside the hats.
The tagging system, known as near-field communication, cost May nothing as it’s an open-source software.
A user can also choose one of 24 languages available. This part of the product was not free, as May uses translation from a company called Lionbridge, which is more accurate than Google Translate, he said.
But the product won’t kill museum tour-guide jobs, May said. It would enhance it, because of its multilingual capacities. For example, MacBride museum can use the Japanese translation of Interpretour for its tourists.
It’s quite an important add-on for the museum, who have a “critical market” with Japanese tourists, he said.
Another display of a wooden washing machine from 1912 shows its price tag, which was not found in the description of the piece.
When May asked Chinese and Taiwanese visitors what they thought of the translation, they said they were able to sufficiently understand what the washing machine description said, although it was not as “smooth.”
There are also still a few kinks that need to be ironed out. The French translation, for instance, does not have any paragraph breaks.
May is also currently working on putting First Nation languages on the product and has partnered with some groups to get an elder to do the translation.
And he won’t stop upgrading yet. Yesterday, May added a “kid-specific” interface, which will simplify the artifacts’ descriptions. There will also be a pause button for the audio, he said, chuckling.
In two to three months, he plans on adding a text-to-speech software, wherein a mechanical voice would read out the description from the tablet.
May’s vision is quite long-term as he keeps up with the changing world of technology. He also plans on putting an “augmented reality” feature to Interpretour, which will allow the user to point the smart tablet to an artifact and recognize it without the tagging chips.
All these upgrades will come free of charge to museums for three years, May said. And the museums won’t have to do anything – the upgrades will be directly installed through a computer networking service.
So far, Interpretour has taken off. May said he has 40 contracts with museums all around Canada. By the end of December, he estimates 50 to 70 Canadian museums will be using the product.
In the fall, he’ll be going on a “trade mission,” to find a European partner and break into the market. He’s also going to target American museums.
But for May, keeping his product, employees and research local was of prime importance.
MacBride Museum provided a lot input to May to help him develop the technology needed for Interpretour for Exhibits. This prompted May to give back to the non-profit by sharing a percentage of the product’s profit with the historic Whitehorse museum.
It’s too early to tell how successful Interpretour will be. MacBride hasn’t yet used the product. May expects to break even with his start-up costs in a year.
Museums pay for product on a monthly basis and prices range. “It depends on the scale, the number of tablets they’re going to use and the number of tags they’re going to deploy in the museum. It can start as low as a few hundred dollars a month,” he said.
As an entrepreneur for the last 27 years, May is used to the risk.
“How do you define success?” he asked, giggling. “For me success is being challenged and having results for the public and for the customers.”
Contact Krystle Alarcon at