By Péralte C. Paul
Georgia Aquarium fans will get to experience a new and multisensory children’s learning exhibit at the Atlanta attraction’s “Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone.”
The exhibit, which takes kids on a terrestrial and aquatic learning journey, is redesigned to be an interactive experience.
The new Aquanaut Adventure, which reopened Nov. 26 at the Downtown venue, incorporates the augmented reality (AR) technology platform created by Merlin Mobility, a startup tech firm that operates from the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s (EI2) Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) in Tech Square.
EI2, a unit of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is the school’s chief statewide business outreach and economic development arm.
“Our goal with Aquanaut Adventure was that we wanted it to be technology rich, interactive, and visually something that would play to all the human senses,” said Brian Davis, the Georgia Aquarium’s vice president of education and training. “Merlin took what had been great experience and turned it into an extraordinary experience.”
Merlin’s AR platform creates visual, three-dimensional, interactive images when viewed through the camera of a mobile phone or tablet. Merlin’s technology is used in interactive learning- and training-based programs.
With the Georgia Aquarium, kids going through Aquanaut Adventure will use iPad tablets to view the interactive AR features sprinkled throughout the experience.
The children, who also will have interactive maps to help guide them, are expected to complete Aquanaut Adventure’s seven age-appropriate challenges within 45 minutes, Davis said.
Participants are divided among three challenge levels based on their age. Kids who are 4- to 6-year-olds are eggs, 7- to 9-year-olds are fry, and 10 and older are fish.
For example, at one challenge, children are tasked with finding different animals on a mural, using the tablets like field glasses. When they find the animal, it “comes to life” with animation and sound effects.
As they go through each of the challenges, they learn about different habitats and how animals interact with each other. At the end of a challenge, they are tested on the subject matter — and if successful, given a virtual badge before going to the next one.
After successfully completing five of the seven challenges, the child is a certified “aquanaut” for the day.
“Merlin moved the experience to the next level in ways that we couldn’t have imagined,” Davis said.
Merlin’s platform not only includes the content design and deployment, but also has an analysis component for the aquarium.
“We do have the content creation piece, which we’re using to build it, and we have the deployment, which is our studio, and then we have the analytics,” said Merlin CEO Margaret Martin. “Not only do you go through the whole experience on our platform, our analytics is tracking the whole experience for the aquarium so we know where people are spending the most time, where they’re having success, and where they’re struggling, so we can tweak it and make adjustments to it as we go along.”