The world's best tech exhibitions

Forget history – museums have gone all interesting with drones, VR and talking statues
The Pool

Art galleries and museums used to be silent halls full of dusty glass cabinets, but no more: Mark Wilson savours the world’s best techs-hibitions.

The Techsperimenters

Microsoft Cube
Effektorium
Drone Aviary

Familiar gadget faces served with a creative, interactive twist

Microsoft CubeWhere: Microsoft Visitor Center, Washington, USAWhen: permanentSo, Microsoft’s invented a Minecraft portal? Not quite yet. Instead, the Cube is a “canvas for a new kind of creative expression” (according to Microsoft’s senior director of brand strategy, Michael Megalli) or, in this case, a next-gen version of Dance Central. A four-foot-square box containing five projectors and four inter-connected Kinects, it lets jigging people on each side see their own and each other’s moves depicted by virtual cubes and ribbons. That might sound pretty much like an LSD simulator, but Microsoft has big plans for the idea, including making giant Cubes that talk to each other. In the meantime, get twerking…microsoft.com

EffektoriumWhere: Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Museum, Leipzig, GermanyThis ingenious installation uses the Leap Motion gesture controller to let you conduct a virtual orchestra. The tempo and instruments respond to the (suitably exaggerated) flicks of your baton, while the touchscreen guides you through Beethoven’s Fifth.mendelssohn-stiftung.de

Drone Aviary When: April 2015 Where: V&A Museum, London, UK
Become a futuristic Alan Partridge by exclaiming “I know a cracking drone aviary” and taking your better half to this exhibition. Details about the indoor drone-fest are vague at the moment, but it will involve ‘interactivity’ and probably a faint whirring sound.superflux.in

The Futurists

inFORM
Body Metrics
The Machine To Be Another

VR artefacts, wearables and telepresence

inFORMWhen: from 12 December 2014Where: Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, New York, USAHeading to the Big Apple this Christmas and want to see the future of Skype? Pop in to see this ‘dynamic shape display’ at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. It’s a marvel of telepresence, allowing a remote user to manipulate objects on the other side of the world in real-time. The project’s inventors, from MIT’s Tangible Media Group, see it as a step towards moving from old-school graphical user interfaces to the tactile user interface and a world of ‘radical atoms’. This would see the likes of inFORM combine with new materials that can change their form and appearance as easily as pixels.tangible.media.mit.edu

Body Metrics Where: The Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, USAThink your fitness band knows you? Wait until you step inside this, which kits you out with a mind-reading NeuroSky EEG headset and stress-tracking sensors to record your emotions. Go to the ‘Data Pool’ at the end for a full report of your visit. Well, it beats a gift shop.thetech.org

The Machine To Be Another Where: touring, venues tbcThis project’s ‘Gender Swap’ sees two people don Oculus Rifts with attached cameras. Each person’s view is then piped to other person which, when combined with agreed set movements, creates a convincing body-swapping illusion. The wider project will be touring festivals next year.themachinetobeanother.org

The Big Kids

The Pool, Canal Convergence
In Orbit, Tomas Saraceno
Human Harp

The fun-loving, techy alternatives to galleries

The PoolWhere: Canal Convergence, Arizona, USAWhen: 26 February 2015 – 1 March 2015Inspired by a night of splashing in tidal pools, this light show is more than just a circle-tastic dancefloor. Each of the 106 platforms contains pressure sensors, an Arduino board and an LED strip to ensure your steps and jumps bounce light around The Pool. Unusually, there’s no central computer coordinating the effect. Instead, each platform follows a simple set of propagating rules that ensure the light show varies every time. It was so popular at the Burning Man festival, its designer Jen Lewin decided to tweak the software to make it less confusing when it’s attacked by hordes of moth-like humans.jenlewinstudio.com

In OrbitWhere: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, GermanyIf anyone asks you if there are any playgrounds for adults, tell them about Tomas Saraceno. The Argentinian artist’s ‘Cloud Cities’ let you frolic around in giant bubbles, and now the 25m-high In Orbit has steel nets to give a sense of weightlessness.tomassaraceno.com

Human HarpWhere: Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UKWhen: 15 March 2015What better way to celebrate the 150th birthday of Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge than by turning it into a giant harp? Previously used on the Brooklyn Bridge, the project processes vibrations so that ‘movicians’ can play structures like instruments.humanharp.org

The Crowdsourcers

Co(de) Factory
Amateur Intelligence Radio
Talking Statues

Because art in the future will be co-authored by the masses… 

Co(de)FactoryWhere: Tekniska Museet, Stockholm, SwedenWhen: until 30 August 2015It might look disturbingly like the egg chamber in Prometheus but there are no aliens lurking here, just an interactive 3D printing project. Part of Google’s roaming DevArt exhibition, Co(de)Factory lets you submit your own object designs (or modify other people’s) via 3D-modelling tools that are available online or at the exhibition. Each day, the best design is then fabricated by the 3D printer in front of the museum’s visitors. The project’s designer Karsten Schmidt says his aim is to show that “authorship is actually not that important, it’s the outcomes that count”. In other words, the days of £100million Picassos are over.devartcodefactory.com 

Amateur Intelligence RadioWhere: St Paul’s Union Depot, Minnesota, USAA historic building now hosts its own radio chat show. Combining stories, real-time data and the building’s own thoughts and memories, the show is automatically generated then delivered in a Siri-like voice online.    airstories.mn

Talking Statues Where: London & Manchester, UKStatues aren’t renowned for their cracking one-liners, but tap your NFC phone or scan the QR code on their purple plaques and you’ll get a call from the real person (OK, an actor) telling you their story. The ‘Fiducial Voice Beacons’ project does the same for the pioneers of modern communication.talkingstatues.co.uk

The Luminaries

Cloud, Light Festival
Theatre Ad Infinitum
Play The House

Well, who doesn’t enjoy being befuddled by pretty lights?

CloudWhere: Light Festival, Ghent, BelgiumWhen: 29 January – 1 February 2015There’s no need to reach for your Fulton brolly under this cloud. A sculpture that’s been built from around 6000 burnt-out light bulbs, it tempts crowds into making lightning effects on the surface by pulling strings dangling around them. Because there are only 250 lit bulbs creating the effect from the centre, it only consumes 20 amps of power (about the same as two household sockets). And if this green version isn’t quite techie enough for you, a larger installation called Cloud Ceiling uses motion sensors and can be found hovering in the ceiling of Chicago’s brilliantly-named Progress Bar.incandescentcloud.com

Theatre Ad Infinitum Where: The Barbican, London, UKWhen: Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 January 2015Following rave reviews at the Fringe, this sci-fi show’s portrayal of an Orwellian future where implants connect brains to cyberspace will be hitting London’s Barbican. Expect ‘intense darkness’ and lots of lasers.    theatreadinfinitum.co.uk

Play The House Where: Nod Building, Stockholm, SwedenWhen: until 31 December 2014Here’s why the local shop is sold out of Philips Hues. Stockholm’s Nod Building has been covered with dozens of the web-connected bulbs so people can play the game Mastermind (the 1970s peg-based puzzler) on the building’s walls via the net.playthehouse.com

Robo-human relations

Minima Forms

Computers with character

Petting ZooWhere: The National Museum of Science and Technology, Stockholm,  SwedenWhen: until August 2015Visiting zoos once meant feeding 
hay to a friendly goat. These 
days, it involves hanging out with suspended robotic arms that use real-time camera tracking to respond to your petting and slowly develop their own personalities. All very 
good for robo-human relations, but we’d recommend standing elsewhere when Skynet gains consciousness.minimaforms.com