Augmented reality tours coming to James Monroe's Highland

Augmented reality tours using smart glasses are making their U.S. debut at the historical sites of James Monroe’s Highland and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Highland, the home of James Monroe and owned by the College of William and Mary, will be the first U.S. historic site to launch AR tours. ARtglasses will show 3D holograms, text, pictures and video alongside the real-life environment.

While the technology is new to the U.S., ARtGlass and Epson have already created 25 tours experienced by 500,000 visitors for museums, palaces and historical ruins across Europe.

“When we first launched ARtGlass in Italy, we knew that if we could overcome the challenges of bringing wearable AR tours to the Old World, we’d be ready for the New World,” said Greg Werkheiser, ARtGlass co-founder and CEO, in a prepared statement. “We are thrilled now to help revolutionize cultural tours at U.S.sites.”

Sara Bon-Harper, executive director at Highland, said they thought AR would be a good way to show people the rediscovered main house on the Highland Property. The house currently standing was not where Monroe actually lived. The house he lived in was destroyed by a fire after the property was sold in 1826. AR will allow people to view a 3D model of what the house looked like.

“Both rediscovering a presidential home and bringing that to the public with new experimental technology is something I think could really make us appealing to people who are not already visiting us on a regular basis,” Bon-Harper said.

The AR tour also will explore the lives of the people who lived on the plantation. Bon-Harper said you will get to “meet” these people by seeing the animation of the characters talking to each other. Bon-Harper said the conversations between the characters are based on historical documents and research.

“What I think is important is that this platform allows us to share two historic interpretation that we otherwise would not be able to,” Bon-Harper said.

Characters will include a wide range of people who lived on the property from James Monroe to the slaves who were forced to work for him.

Melissa Wood, the spokeswoman for Mount Vernon, said they are hoping to launch AR tours this summer, which is the historic site’s high visitation season.

Want to try it?

Public beta testing on the tours will begin in early February. These tours will be included in the price of admission, but visitors will be asked to fill out a questionnaire at the end of their tour.Once beta testing is completed, there will be an admissions package at Highland which will include AR tours.

To find out more about Highland, you can visit their website

Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.

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