EXPERIMEDIA - Revisiting history, virtually

Is the past boring? Perhaps not if you can visit it with your friends. Imagine moving through ancient streets at your own pace, examining objects and sharing your impressions as you look around – all with expert advice on hand. The Interactive Digital Dome at the Foundation of the Hellenic World allows you to do just that.

The Foundation for the Hellenic World (FHW) in Athens is a world-leading cultural and heritage centre. Like many high-tech museums, it uses advanced 3D virtual reality (VR) installations for virtual tours through reconstructions of heritage sites.
The museum wanted to extend its VR exhibitions to make them more immersive. By incorporating live remote experts and letting visitors direct narratives, they hoped to appeal to new audiences that want more interactive and communicative experiences.
Future Media Internet (FMI) technologies offer the potential to add just such features to museum visits and learning. However, these technologies have been largely ignored when it comes to audience participation in large-scale VR shows.
Using the EU’s EXPERIMEDIA test facilities, the FHW explored how to address this underused application to deliver meaningful interactivity in a large dome show for 100+ visitors. It asked the following questions: What pre-show events enhance educational dome shows? How can remote experts take part in presentations and interact with learning groups? How can participants contribute to the narrative in real-time?
The experiment aimed to engage audiences using three FMI technologies – augmented reality (AR) (using digital effects to enhance images of real objects), live video streaming and social media. It used the show “A Walk Through Ancient Miletus”, which transfers the visitors to the ancient city of Miletus as it was 2000 years ago, as a test for its innovations.

In the enhanced show, participants could use a dedicated AR smartphone app to explore digital images of artefacts before the VR show, to prepare for and develop interest in the presentation. Live video streaming broadcast the VR show to academic experts, who replied with a video feed of their reactions on the dome screen. Finally, a specially developed Facebook-based application connected visitors and experts to a dedicated event page, where they could post messages throughout the VR walkthrough presentation.

The experiment had three major impacts. First, it improved visitor participation. In the AR event, visitors explored objects and interacted together, while the streaming and social networking in the VR show let them share reactions and ask questions to the expert without disturbing the main presentation. Secondly, the enhancements promoted education. Besides being very interactive, the AR pre-show event disseminated historical information and created anticipation about the VR show: visitors could identify artefacts in the show as those they had already seen in the AR app. The dedicated social media application and live video streaming during the show also allowed visitors to ask questions freely without hesitation or interruption. As a result, the museum educators witnessed an increase in the number of questions asked, especially during the live video session with the remote expert.
Finally, user evaluation showed that the additional features can have a financial impact. Most of the visitors were willing to pay additional fees for these experiences, while the publicity through the live video feed and chat resulted in higher visitor numbers on the museum’s website and Facebook page.
The project demonstrated how dome shows can increase the learning experience by using emerging technologies. Future work will advance the state of the art by incorporating realtime reconstruction of 3D avatars so experts can appear fully immersed within virtual worlds.

Source: net-Xperiment magazine, March 2014, DG Connect of the European Commission. Article published in the Digital Agenda for Europe, Rivisiting history, virtually.