Designers behind the Eisenhower Memorial are using cutting-edge technology to help tell the story of a man known for keeping an eye on the future.
The $100 million memorial to honor the U.S. president and World War II commander is the first 21st century national presidential memorial to include an augmented reality application, officials said Thursday. The application will let visitors to use their smartphones to experience the memorial as more than just a static exhibit.
Unlike virtual reality, which creates a fake digital environment around a real object, augmented reality uses a device like a smartphone to apply an image to real life — such as various hairstyles on a photograph of a person's head, or geographical information projected onto a view of the street.
"The idea there, the aspiration, is we can engage a whole new generation that doesn't know about this character in history that's compelling and engaging, and that fulfills some of the storytelling and interpretation that the memorial is not designed to fulfill," said Jake Barton, principal of Local Projects, the media design firm behind the e-memorial. "For a president and leader who invested so heavily in science and expression ... it's particularly fitting."
Eisenhower graduated from West Point and served in World War I before becoming the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II. He was elected president of the United States and was in office from 1953 to 1961.
During his administration, Eisenhower was credited with creating the Interstate Highway System and signing the act that created NASA. This memorial is the seventh national memorial to honor the 34th president. It was approved in 1999 by President Clinton, and despite some conflict about portions of its design, the memorial is set for completion by Memorial Day 2015.
A request for comment from the memorial commission was not returned.
Mr. Barton said the interactive experience will come through an app — software downloaded to a mobile phone — that will be ready for the first visitors.
Mr. Barton said the e-memorial will have seven "interpretive experiences" showing video, pictures and audio about historic events that not only impacted Eisenhower's life, but spurred change on a national and international level.
"We're still in the process of meeting with experts on the history and legacy, but clearly one of them will be D-Day," Mr. Barton said, referencing the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy, France, led by Eisenhower. "When people arrive at the Eisenhower Memorial or look at the memorial's online presence, they'll be able to explore the moment in D-Day as if they were there. Using augmented reality, they will be able to see individual soldiers, parts of the battle, as if they were surrounding you while you were walking."
The site is on a 4-acre plot of land between the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Department of Education. Woven metal tapestries high atop 80-foot columns are planned as a barrier between the park and its urban surroundings. Once inside the memorial, visitors can walk among stone engravings that depict images from Eisenhower's military and political career.
Mr. Barton said the expectation is that the e-memorial app could be used by younger generations of visitors who are tech savvy.
"There's an awareness that for history in general, maybe even for Eisenhower specifically, we have a generation that doesn't necessarily know about the historic events that have shaped how our nation works today," he said. "There's a broad range of choices that Eisenhower personally made and that are exciting to experience. The legacy we benefit from today,we want to be able to tell that story in a way that makes people aware of the impact we live within even today."
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