They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but augmented reality is giving the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum the ability to add a few more poignant real words to its exhibits.
The museum is testing a mobile app that will enable visitors to see more information about the victims and survivors of the Holocaust in the camera view of their smartphone. The technology allows the museum to tell a deeper story about the tragedy and helps to build a more emotional connection between visitors and history.
"How do you show the idea of 6 million people who were murdered as individuals, not as numbers?" said Michael Haley Goldman, director of future projects for the museum, during a video produced by the museum about the experience. "In this case, we're using phones to allow the computer to know where you are and give you additional information."
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For instance, one exhibit at the museum displays photos of the townspeople of Eisiskes, Lithuania. According to the video, most of the town's 3,000 Jewish residents were massacred over the course of 48 hours in 1941. The app tells visitors the fate of the people in the photographs.
"The pictures were just of everyday life, and how much their lives were just normal and then flipped and went upside down," said Alexa, a 14-year-old student from Spokane, Washington who had an opportunity to try the app at the museum. "The augmented reality definitely helped, because a picture says a lot of things, but having the words to go with the picture just made the experience ten times better than it would be just looking at pictures."
The experience is made possible by the Crown Goodman family, one of the founding investors of the museum and descendants of a Jewish family who immigrated to the United States in the 19th Century.
"You only have to look around the world today to understand the timeless relevance of this history," said Lester Crown, family patriarch in a blog post. "People are still susceptible to hate propaganda, whether it comes through speeches, the written word, or social media. Through the use of digital outreach, the Museum is creating global awareness."
The latest advancements in AR platforms such as ARKit, ARCore, and Facebook Camera, and particularly image recognition, give museum curators and their technology teams useful tools to implement similar experiences today.
Looking forward, the emergence of augmented reality headsets hold the promise of even more immersive museum AR experiences in the near future.