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Virtually reconstructing the past

"Bringing ancient history to life challenges even the best of guides. Especially when the site is little more than a pile of crumbling stones. But research in Greece shows that a novel combination of audiovisual and communication technologies - turning reality into 'augmented reality' - can enhance visitor experience by rebuilding historical locations in front of their very eyes.

Armed with any one of these [mobile device] units, fans of cultural heritage can now admire Olympia's architectural glories as they looked several thousand years ago. The remains of once-grandiose temples - including foundations and colonnades - majestically develop automatically on-screen into complete virtual buildings as users approach. Audio commentary over headphones completes the historical picture.

The system's clever part is the augmented reality. "AR systems have been studied for several years, but mostly in indoor environments," says Dr Vassilios Vlahakis, from INTRACOM, the Greek company responsible for the project's central server, network infrastructure and the integration of systems on the mobile devices. "Unlike virtual reality, where 3D models are projected onto a synthetic world, AR systems project 3D models onto a real background, seen with a user's eyes or a video camera that tracks the user's gaze." He adds with pride: "You are not cut off from reality by AR."

Through data personalisation, users can select what they want to see or learn as they move around a site: a great way of avoiding information overload. Cartoon characters can be employed as information presenters in the display system, to hold children's attention. Imagine seeing the Olympic Games as they originally were, with avatar athletes competing against each other in the stadium of Olympia amongst spectators and real visitors. This too is possible with ARCHEOGUIDE. Features like these, believe the developers, will bring together the worlds of education, research and entertainment - making cultural visits a more enriching experience."

AR technology revives the ancient past.


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