Reliving D-Day Through Augmented Reality


The National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, ishonoring the exploits and sacrifices of the Greatest Generation in anew augmented reality exhibit “D-Day: Freedom from Above.” ThisAR experience commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Normandylandings, which helped liberate France and Western Europe from theNazis and lead to the Allied victory in the Second World War.

The 3,500 square foot exhibit premiered on May 13 and will run throughthe end of 2019. It focuses on the D-Day missions of the 82nd and101st Airborne divisions landings in Normandy, and the air assault onSainte-Mre-glise, the first French town to be liberated by Allies.

D-DayFreedom From Above exhibit

The D-Day Freedom From Above exhibit will run through the end of 2019.

The limited-run AR experience took France-based Histovery nine monthsto develop. The Dayton exhibit may be temporary, but asimilar exhibit already has become a fixture at the Airborne Museum inSainte-Mre-glise, where it provides context for theparatrooper operations and virtually “transports” the user to nearbylocations as they were 75 years ago.

“This became a new goal thanks to the partnership initiated by the AirForce Museum Foundation for the National Museum of the United StatesAir Force,” said Bruno de Sa Moreira, CEO of Histovery.

“This innovative concept came out also because of the 75thanniversary, and became a reality thanks to our American partners,” deSa Moreira told TechNewsWorld.

It is the latest exhibit that the AR technology firm hascreated for several museums in France. Other exhibits currently are on display at thePope’s Palace in Avignon, the Royal Palace of Amboise, the Dungeon ofLoches, and the Residence of William the Conqueror.

By using a HistoPad — a Samsung tablet device running Histovery’s proprietarysoftware — visitors can get a digital experience that complements the artifacts in the various museums.

D-DayMuseum HistoPad AR

The HistoPad creates an immersing experience and allows visitors to interact with AR objects.

Since not everyone can travel to France, the decision was made to bring”D-Day: Freedom from Above” to the United States for the 75thanniversary of D-Day.

“This is the first time that a Histovery experience has been providedoutside of France,” said Marie Angoulvant, lead graphic artist atHistovery.

“This experience plays off the National Museum of the US Air Force’s collection,” she told TechNewsWorld.

The National Museum of the US Air Force is openly daily to the public free of charge. There is a US$5 charge for the “D-Day: Freedom from Above” exhibit.

Augmenting the Experience

The National Museum of the US Air Force is thelargest and oldest military aviation museum in the world. It also was the first museum devoted to one of the United States military’sservice branches — actually predating the foundation of the USAF. Itis home to more than 300 aircraft, including theB-17 Memphis Belle and the B-29 bomber Bockscar, which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and helped end World War II.

A section in the museum’s World War II gallery devoted tothe D-Day landing includes various equipment and uniforms, aswell as an actual Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft, which wasused to deliver paratroopers to France and to tow gliders.

D-DayMuseum 360-degree view of the cockpit of a C-47 transport plane in AR

AR can allow visitors to see parts of the National Museum of the United States Air Force’s collection in ways not normally possible. In this case they can see a 360-degree view of the cockpit of a C-47 transport plane.

“D-Day: Freedom from Above” builds on those exhibits, creating aless static presentation. Via the HistoPad users can experience apre-mission briefing, see the equipment carried by each paratrooper,take part in a flight on a C-47 transport aircraft, and jump intoaction in Nazi-occupied France.

D-DayMuseum HistoPad Normandy Invasion

From the HistoPad visitors are taken back to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

The exhibit features 12 physical panels that guide users through theexperience, allowing them to manipulate various 3D virtual relics, viewunpublished photographs, interact with animated maps, and get a hands-on perspective of the history.

“The average user spends about 45 minutes going through thepresentation,” noted Angoulvant.

Since opening last month, the exhibit already has become a popular attractionfor visitors to the museum.

“We believe it is a new way to way to connect with the youngergeneration that only knows about D-Day from movies, TV and games, andthey are the ones that have tended to stay the longest,” saidAngoulvant.

However, it isn’t just kids who are finding the HistoPad tablet to bean enticing way to take in history.

“We have found that veterans have been touched by it,” Angoulvant added.

AR Normandy

“D-Day: Freedom from Above” isn’t the first AR experience built around”Operation Overlord,” the codename for the Battle of Normandy.

France-based 44 Screens in 2013 released “Arromanches 44,” anapplication designed to commemorate the 70th anniversary ofthe Normandy landings. It includes a reconstruction of the Port ofArromanches as it looked back in 1944 (pictured above) complete with an animatedpanoramic view of the harbor, and it offers an AR view of the Canadianlandings at Juno Beach.

Spokane-based Gravity Jack, which creates AR and virtual reality presentation and tools, also developed its own app from the ground upto commemorate the Greatest Generation in the classroom. The “D-Day:June 6, 1944” app combines a multimedia experience with cinematic soundand animation, and works off a classroom map to walk users through theNormandy invasion.

It offers presentations on the landings, battles and equipment.Gravity Jack teamed up with The Greatest Generation Foundation andtraveled to Normandy to record video, gather historical information,and even get firsthand accounts from veterans. All of this data iscombined in a free app that runs on iOS and Android devices.

Creating the “D-Day: June 6, 1944” app took Gravity Jack about 12 weeks,but what was more difficult “was convincing “old school thinkers”to “think outside the box,” said Jennifer Richey, cofounder ofGravity Jack.

“One of the problems thus far with new technology is that companies –and museums which still run like companies — are reluctant to spendmoney on things they don’t know,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Gravity Jack proved AR could bring history to life in anew way when the company worked with The Tank Museum in Bovington,England, and Wargaming, the game development studio behind “World ofTanks.” That technology utilized Microsoft HoloLens and Google’s Tangoapp to create a 3D replica of the infamous Sturmtiger tank that couldroll through the wall and park itself beside actual physical tanks inthe museum.

Beyond the Beachhead

It isn’t just D-Day or even World War II in general that has beengetting the AR treatment. In addition to the ARexperiences installed in several museums throughout France, Histovery has developed exhibits for other institutions. The National Museum of Singapore and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington also have embracedthis technology.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as part of the “Heroes andLegends” exhibit, AR can be used to insert a hologram of astronaut GeneCernan over his actual Gemini 9 space capsule and digitally create thehistoric spacewalk, the second in human history. Cernan’s spacesuitoverheated and his visor fogged up, and the AR app allows visitors toexperience this “spacewalk from hell.”

For those who want less drama but still desire an immersing experience,a new app dubbed “England’s Historic Cities” was released last year. Itutilizes AR as a way for tourists to interact with heritage sitesacross the country. The app works with dozens of different locations, fromHadrian’s Wall and Durham Cathedral in the north of the country toSalisbury Cathedral in the south.

There is the question of whether this technology might take away fromthe actual artifacts in a museum.

“That may be an issue with some visitors, but museums aren’t the onlyplaces being challenged by technological distractions,” said CharlesKing, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Hopefully, AR and other new features will help inspire people to putdown their phones and be entertained, educated and inspired by museumexhibitions,” he told TechNewsWorld.

New Way to Present the Past

AR technology is just the latest way to make the past comealive. It is especially appealing to younger museum visitors, who have grownup with smartphones and other devices. AR tablets and apps can helpconnect them with the past.

“We see AR as a new way to learn and digest information,” said GravityJack’s Ritchey.

“You can take a class on history and take notes, and you can listen torecordings and watch video, but this medium takes it a step further,”she added.

“With our ‘D-Day: June 6, 1944’ app you can hold up your phone, see theships and paratroopers — as well as the bombs drop — and this lesson is manytimes more engaging than just reading about D-Day,” suggested Ritchey.

AR and related technologies could be the logical next step for all types of museums to engage with visitors.

“Museums have long been places for research and education, but over thepast couple of decades, educational activities have incorporatedincreasingly sophisticated features,” observed King.

“Those include audio/video presentations, on-site performances byactors, recorded narrations, and smartphone apps for ‘self-guided’tours and interactive exhibits and features. These are especiallypopular at science and technology museums,” he said.

“Some might see this as mere entertainment, but I believe it has moreto do with engaging modern audiences on terms they understand andenjoy,” added King.

Museums could be just scratching the surface of what eventually will become commonplace, largely because the technologiesinvolved are still emerging.

“The Smithsonian features holograms of famous people — astronauts BuzzAldrin leading a tour of Mars, and Mae Jemison, the first woman ofcolor to go into space, touring the space shuttle Enterprise,” saidKing.

“Other museums are using AR to allow visitors to delve moredeeply into specific subjects, like the San Francisco MOMA’s ARgallery of the works of painter Rene Magritte,” he continued. “Since most museumsexhibit only a tiny fraction of their holdings at any given time, theyhave a lot of material and information to work with.”


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