Since the founding of the museum 30 years ago, visitors to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have been captivated by the photographs of ordinary people in the Tower of Faces gallery. Hundreds of portraits depict family life, celebrations, and friendships in a small town. Almost all of the Jewish townspeople were murdered by Nazi German perpetrators and their local helpers in the span of a few days. How could augmented reality help give museum visitors insight into the lives and fates of this community?
With Tessellate Studio, we came up with a simple and compelling experience, whereby visitors could pick up iPads discreetly docked around the gallery perimeter to scan a selection of 30 photographs to learn about the "sparks of life" that illuminated this close-knit communituy. Our custom software immediately recognizes that an iPad has been picked up, and loads a short contextual video. As visitors scan the space with the iPad's camera, AR-enabled photos appear with glowing frames. A photo is selected, appears to float into the iPad screen, and briefly colorizes--a moment that visitors treasure. The photo's story then plays, with narration voiced by a diverse set of actors. Connections among community members are visualized with a ribbon of light, guiding visitors to view related photos.
The exhibit has proved enormously successful, not only in the sheer numbers of people using the devices--nearly 1,000 daily--but for meeting comprehension goals. As one visitor observed, "I never realized what six million meant, but then you see these people." This is in my top few favorite projects, and I am deeply moved and proud to have created a technological intervention that respects and upholds a sacred space.