In 2014 the archive of the inventor Frederick Lanchester was stored in the Head Librarian’s office at Coventry University, although public access was granted on application, it was only utilised by a niche audience of automotive enthusiasts. The lack of tactile assets was also a problem as the archive mainly consisted of notebooks, blueprints, drawings and photographs. The research aim was to create and enact a communication model (the Processual Model of Digital Amplification or PMDA) exploiting the visual elements of the archive through Xtended (augmented and virtual) reality, thus facilitating community engagement and increasing the reach of this heritage.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) granted the researcher £466,000 to create the Lanchester Interactive Archive (LIA) to tell the story of Lanchester born in 1868, one of the greatest polymaths of the UK who invented amongst many other things; the first all British petrol motor car; wrote the scientific fundamentals of flight and patented over 400 inventions. The archive was the inspiration for augmented and virtual reality assets and games that explain the physics behind his inventions. A physical/digital micro museum open to the public was designed alongside a physical pop-up version of a Lanchester car, in blueprint design, to take Lanchester’s heritage out to the community.
Public engagement was measured by audience comments and attendance at public events in an independent report for the HLF. The positive results of the research were established through focus groups, surveys and interviews. The LIA is used for scholarship in many disciplines including two PhD studies. The communication model developed during the project is now used in UK, Egypt, Morocco, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Portugal, however the longer-term impact of the LIA derives from the stimulation of discourse about the role of technology and pop-up xtended reality cultural exhibitions in the community.
The public engagement with this archive has increased from less than 10 people a year to over 25,000 people physically visiting the LIA micro museum and pop-up since it opened in 2017. The innovation in this project is threefold, revolving around the development of an original conceptual framework for heritage and education (the PMDA); the use of xtended reality to tell the narrative; and a flexible mobile, blueprint-styled pop-up exhibition to increase access. The research underpinning the development of the LIA aimed to increase understanding of how best to engage local communities with, and to enhance knowledge of; the archive of Frederick Lanchester.
Significant engagement with the archive included over 50 local community workshops and over 30 school visits using the resources to engage communities and increase knowledge of the LIA inventions through innovative digital assets. The LIA was disseminated at many conferences including New York, Revolutionary Learning, The Museums Association Conference, Birmingham and the MUSE Conference, Chile. Several broadcasting items including a BBC TV News item have disseminated the LIA to many thousands of people.
Scholarly impact includes: third year engineering students researching Lanchester’s now digitised patents as source material; marketing students research the archive and exhibition in order to develop marketing plans; development of the LIA added to the curriculum for product design resulting in students designing their own pop-up Lanchester model. Through research of the now digitised archive a student discovered one of Lanchester’s inventions that would have pre-dated the Wright brothers’ invention of the first flying machine, achieving a prize from the Aeronautical Society and is using the LIA as the source for his PhD. Eight Universities from Egypt and Morocco are now using the LIA and PMDA model in their own scholarship, plus it is the basis for an EU Erasmus Plus project ViRAL where less advantaged citizens are taught research and archiving skills.
This physical/digital installation was launched in 2017 but is still being visited and very popular today in 2020