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Augmented Reality Glasses Bring U.S. Historic Sites to Life

AR revitalizes tours of presidential homes

Visitors to Highland, the Virginia home of James Monroe, are exploring the historic site in a new, vivid dimension with the help of augmented reality. A beta version of an AR tour, which includes 3D holograms, videos, artifacts, buildings and landscape features, was first offered in late February 2018. AR storytelling company ARtGlass partnered with tech company Epson to create this experience, which is viewed through Epson augmented reality glasses. Highland’s use of AR to interpret history is hailed as the first project of its kind in the U.S.

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“U.S. museums and cultural sites attract more visits annually than pro-sporting events and theme parks combined. The future of history is bright,” ARtGlass CEO Werkheiser said in a press release. There are over 1 billion visits to these cultural sites annually and they generate more than $13 billion in revenue each year.


Highland Comes to Life in AR

Highland, the home of America’s fifth president, is located in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is owned by the College of William and Mary, where both Monroe and George Washington studied. Most of the augmented experience at Highland is positioned outdoors, where guests view 3D images, text, animated characters, videos and architectural reconstructions laid over the physical site.

Augmented Reality Glasses Bring U.S. Historic Sites to Life
Highland’s historic AR characters
Image: ARtGlass

This hands-free journey into the 18th and early 19th century is experienced through Epson-powered augmented reality glasses, which have 3D binocular lenses and are described as lightweight. They have a five-hour battery life.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”18″ bg_color=”#04303e” txt_color=”#ffffff”]“These stories are often neglected and are difficult to tell well, so it is gratifying to take on the challenge of doing it respectfully with this new technology.”[/mks_pullquote] The Highland AR experience will reveal new content to the public such as conversations between Highland residents and 3D archaeological excavations and renderings. The material featured in this new experience was developed from three years of recent research at Highland.

ARtGlass Experience Director, Lexi Cleveland, told AR Post she is particularly pleased with how the new tour is able to “bring the stories of the enslaved residents to the public in a new and compelling way,” adding that, “These stories are often neglected and are difficult to tell well, so it is gratifying to take on the challenge of doing it respectfully with this new technology.” Monroe owned about 250 enslaved persons and while he publicly supported abolition, he did not free any enslaved people himself.

Three of the characters Highland visitors can now meet with augmented reality glasses tell stories of forced residents. For example, one scene features a conversation between characters Hannah and Nelson about how two enslaved carpenters, Peter and George, built structures on the Highland property.

As AR, VR and other multimedia experiences become more prevalent and popular, high-tech, immersive tours may draw even more visitors to historic sites.

“Augmented reality brings historical figures to life and shares the sense of discovery here at Highland in ways that are both educational and immersive. We expect to draw more — and more diverse – visitors,” Highland Executive Director Sara Bon-Harper said in a statement.

Visitors to Highland can currently step back in time with the augmented reality glasses at no additional charge, though they will be asked to fill out a related short survey about the experience.


ARtGlass and Epson’s Other Historic Projects

In June, ARtGlass and Epson will also launch an AR tour at Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George Washington. Mount Vernon is the most popular historic home in the U.S., clocking more than 85 million visitors since 1860.

Rob Shenk, Mount Vernon senior vice president for visitor engagement, pointed out that Washington liked to keep updated on and surrounded by the latest technology, much like many of the contemporary guests who visit his home. Visitors who go on the AR tour will be welcomed by a 3D hologram of Washington (an actor pre-filmed on a green screen and viewable through the augmented reality glasses).

ARtGlass and Epson have already created more than 500,000 experiences at museums, historic buildings and ruins in Europe. ARtGlass specializes in integrating AR into cultural tourism, relying on a team of specialists in technology, art, architecture, archeology and landscape. Along with the augmented reality glasses in use at the historic sites, Epson creates a diverse line of tech solutions and products, including in the realms of inkjet, robotics, visual communications and wearables.

Building on their success in Europe, Werkheiser expressed the companies are excited to now bring these unique explorations of history from the Old World to the New World. By 2019, they hope to have about a dozen cultural AR tours up and running in the U.S.

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Julia Travers
the authorJulia Travers
Julia Travers writes about science, tech and art. Her work also appears with NPR, Discover Magazine and Earth Island Journal.