The tiny agency, which maintains 26 cemeteries and 30 memorials around the world, outsourced production of the app, says Tim Nosal, ABMC chief of external affairs.
The National Park Service began working with TimeLooper, a virtual reality platform creator, when the company asked the NPS for information about the Washington Monument for a Washington, D.C.-based VR experience.
When an elevator at the Lincoln Memorial was shut down, denying visitors with mobility issues access to the main chamber, TimeLooper produced a VR experience that uses a cardboard headset to help visitors view the chamber containing the Lincoln statue without using the stairs.
The company also created an experience around the Petersen House — the home where President Abraham Lincoln died — when it had to be closed in 2018 for installation of a fire suppression system and other renovations, says Paul Ollig, chief of interpretation for the NPS.
“When you’re looking at that room, you feel the weight of the events of that night,” he says. “We’ve found that people who experience VR in situations like that are very thankful we have some sort of alternative experience.”
NPS gift shops now sell (or occasionally provide for free) cardboard headsets that, when paired with a smartphone, create 3D experiences at various landmarks, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. TimeLooper handles that end of the business and also manages app updates; that’s the advantage of working with an external provider, Ollig says.
“The complexity of the technology is likely beyond the capability of most government agencies,” Ollig says. “We can give the public something they’ve never seen before when we find a partner who’s willing to work with us in a way that fits with our mission.”
Government Use of AR and VR Is Expected to grow
Although some agencies may feel AR/VR technology isn’t useful, new solutions with lower price points may change their minds, says McCarthy.
“It gives you extra flexibility as to where you can access information,” he says. “I don’t consider it frivolous.”
Federal, state and local governments spent about $326 million on AR/VR solutions last year, he says. By 2021, IDC forecasts place the total at $9.2 billion, marking a significant uptick in government AR/VR use.
With augmented and virtual reality providing the ability to show people things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see, the biggest challenge AR/VR adoption may face could be a nearly limitless number of potential applications.
“It’s never going to replace a park ranger or some of the other traditional ways we tell stories,” says Ollig. “But it’s another tool we can use to provide access to the meaning of these sites and help people understand why it’s important to protect them.