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Tucked away in one corner of the popular Tropical Butterfly House at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is a small blue device that promises to change how visitors experience the exhibit, improve how the Science Center engages with its visitors and — if one Seattle startup has its way — enhance the way we experience the world.

A beacon from Estimote, used in conjunction with Artifact Technologies’ Mixby app at Pacific Science Center.

It’s a beacon: an off-the-shelf, Bluetooth-enabled device that connects wirelessly with a smartphone app called Mixby, created by Seattle-based startup Artifact Technologies.

The app uses the beacon to confirm the visitor’s proximity to the Butterfly House and unlock a “mosaic” of interactive content inside the app, including videos and photos related to the exhibit.

Among other features, the app challenges visitors to spot a particular type of butterfly — a Blue Morpho, for example — and lets them upload photos to document their finds.

Across the building at the Pacific Science Center gift shop, another beacon unlocks a special coupon inside the Mixby app. And over at the dinosaur exhibit, visitors can use the app for a virtual scavenger hunt, following clues to specific areas of the exhibit, where beacons confirm their success by verifying their location.

Beacons are best known, so far, for their applications in stores, with Apple using beacons to help provide notifications to its retail customers when they’re standing in front of a particular product, for example. But Artifact is trying a different approach with Mixby (pronounced mix-bee) — developing a platform that can be used in conjunction with beacons, in a wide variety of venues, to deliver location-based interactive content via smartphones.

Seth Garrison, Adrienne Mills, Greg Heuss, Sam Teplitsky, Ben McAllister, Robb Vest, and Matt Joss. (Not pictured: Brent Friedman.)
The Artifact Technologies team, L-R: Seth Garrison, Adrienne Mills, Greg Heuss, Sam Teplitsky, Ben McAllister, Robb Vest, and Matt Joss. (Not pictured: Brent Friedman.)

“It’s all about the story you can tell,” said Greg Heuss, Artifact Technologies CEO, demonstrating the technology at the Pacific Science Center. Heuss leads the company with Artifact president and co-founder Sam Teplitsky.

The Pacific Science Center test was launched this month as a demonstration for the recent American Alliance of Museums conference in Seattle. The Science Center plans a broader public launch of Mixby later this summer — an important step for the museum, which doesn’t have a mobile app of its own.

“The idea that we can create dynamic, changing, fresh interactive content for our guests all the time is incredibly attractive to us,” said Crystal Clarity, the Pacific Science Center’s vice president of marketing and communications.

And the kicker for venues that license Mixby will be the ability to use the platform for location-based analytics — seeing trends and patterns in what visitors do when they’re on site. That’s new and valuable information that can help event organizers, venue operators and companies in general better understand and serve their audiences.

butterfly2For example, if there’s a big crowd waiting to watch a movie in one corner of a museum, the venue could send out a notification promoting a later show time, with a coupon for those who wait.

Among other scenarios, venues could use the app to offer special content to VIP guests, such as museum members. They could also offer in-app purchasing to let visitors take particular pieces of content home with them, after they’re out of range of the beacons.

Mixby is designed to work across different venues, not requiring users to download and install individual apps for each location.

Artifact envisions a variety of potential customers for the platform, not just museums but also community events, attractions, companies and others. The technology has been tested at community events on South Whidbey Island.

Based in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Artifact was founded in December 2011 and has transitioned to developing the Mixby platform after initially producing a game and a music app. The company has raised $3 million to date, from three angel investors and a strategic investor, and is in the process of raising another round of funding.

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