How Technology Transformed a 21-Year-Old Car Museum

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles just created an interactive iOS app for visitors and completed a $90 million renovation project.

Petersen Automotive Museum, Belkin, Linksys, interactive displays, cars, motorcycles, Volkswagen bus, touchscreens, Los Angeles, Robert E. Petersen

Since June 1994, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has showcased important and notable cars, trucks and motorcycles in its collection for display to the general public. But over the years, the museum—housed since its creation in a building originally built as a department store—never caught up with the rush of technology, missing out on interactive multimedia displays, a WiFi system for guests and employees, and other modern must-haves.

That all changed, however, in December 2015 after the 100,000-square-foot museum reopened following a 14-month, $90 million renovation project that revamped the place from top to bottom and added a modern IT infrastructure from Belkin and Linksys, including 68 miles of CAT 6 cable, switches and other high-tech bits. For the first time, the museum and its collection (pictured) of more than 300 vehicles from around the world can be shown off using video, audio and in-depth displays to give visitors more details about what they are seeing inside the facility.

Adding to the modern building renovations is an all-new museum iOS mobile app that provides a virtual tour of the museum and its amazing collection, from a 1934 La Salle Series 350 roadster to a 2006 Ford GT coupe. The mobile app even lets visitors play an automotive scavenger hunt inside the building and offers intriguing details about the museum's floor plan and about notable vehicles in the collection.

"The museum board wanted to pursue a more intelligent and serious look for visitors to experience here," Adam Langsbard, chief marketing officer of the museum told eWEEK. Before the renovations, the building interior "still looked like a department store, with an escalator from the first to the second floor. It still had the shape, form, function and carpeting of a department store."

The move to renovate was long overdue and finally began in October 2014 with new displays; the installation of an elaborate, new IT network; interactive touch-screen displays; charging stations for visitors' mobile phones and more, said Langsbard.

"What we wanted to create was an environment where adults and children especially can touch and feel the exhibits in a 20th-century manner," he said. On a series of touch-screens, visitors can see and expand photos and other content and can get in-depth information by touching icons on the screens. More than 100 video interviews are also viewable describing people who work in different jobs inside the auto industry.

Electronic beacons are also used so that visitors can get notifications about things on their mobile devices as they come across exhibits inside the museum, said Langsbard.

Visitors can use the museum's iOS app on their own iOS devices or they can rent an iOS tablet for a small fee for use inside the facility. The basic version of the app is free, while a premium version sells for $2.99 and includes extra features and content. More than 100 images are displayed in the app to augment a visitor's experience. The app is available in seven languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Russian and Mandarin, with more to come. An Android version could come later but is not yet scheduled.

Before the renovations were completed, the old museum interior "was a total 'MacGyver' situation," with hastily assembled ISDN equipment set up for special events to provide temporary inside connectivity in recent years, Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer of Belkin told eWEEK. "Now it is bringing the guest experience to life" through the newly installed technology systems. "They've got these amazing cars spanning the generations from the past to today. Storytelling is now possible and it's bringing the passion around those cars to visitors."

The museum's collection includes a wide range of vehicles, from racing cars to rarities and important trend-setting vehicles from around the world such as the Volkswagen bus, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ferrari 212/225.Also included is a Cisitalia 202 Coupe, designed by Italy's Pininfarina after World War II. The car was built atop a chassis and running gear made up of Fiat parts.

Steve McQueen's favorite car, the Jaguar XKSS, is also on display, as is a collection of motorcycles from Harley-Davidsons to Hondas and Triumphs, to Ducatis, Indians and Vincents.

The museum was created as a non-profit charity by the late Robert E. Petersen, the publisher of Hot Rod magazine and a wide range of other automotive publications under his former company, Petersen Publishing. The museum's charter calls for it to collect and preserve historic vehicles of all shapes, sizes, makes, models and purposes.