History brought to life

West Country attractions are pioneering virtual reality and digital technology as experts work to revolutionise the way visitors experience historic locations.

Canon Mike Williams trialling new technology designed to enhance visitor experiences at Exeter Cathedral
Historians, academics, designers and architects aim to help tourist destinations use virtual reality headsets, tablets and smartphones to bring history to life, meet characters from the past and explore artefacts that are otherwise inaccessible.

It is hoped the research will lead to a 20 per cent increase in visitor numbers in heritage sites taking part in the project.

Tourism is worth more than £10bn a year to the economy in the West Country.

The project, called VISTA AR, aims to help heritage attractions use virtual reality, while apps can encourage more people to visit and re- turn to historical and cultural sites.

Those working on the 7.8m Euro project, led by the University of Exeter, will develop a range of virtual and augmented reality resources which will be trialled by tourist at- tractions in the South West and in Northern France.

This includes smaller sites, which would otherwise not have been able to afford to use expensive equipment. This project is co-financed by European Regional Development Fund from the France (Channel) Interreg Programme.

The first places to test the technology will be Exeter Cathedral and Fougères Castle in Brittany. They will be followed by the National Trust Tin Coast in Cornwall, the South West Coastal Path, and the Lorient Submarine Museum and the Gardens of Valloires in France.

In Exeter Cathedral visitors can expect an augmented reality game based on the astronomical clock.

The carvings of angels playing instruments in the Minstrel Gallery will also be animated.

Visitors to the Tin Coast will be able to use virtual reality helmets to experience what it would have been like to work at Botallack Mine, the location used to film the Poldark series. Walkers along the South West Coast Path will be able to use technology to find out more about the area’s coastal heritage.

The project was launched at Exeter Cathedral, where people who run heritage attractions will be able try virtual and augmented reality and digital technology equipment.

The project will run for four years, with the online tools ready to test next year. Tourist attractions can sign up at vista-ar@exeter.ac.uk to be kept up-to-date with developments and project events.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.