Augmented reality project brings Olympics birthplace to life

·2 min read

WHAT would it be like to walk around the ancient religious sanctuary of Olympia when the Olympic Games were held?

An unusual partnership between Microsoft and Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sport is offering visitors the answer, launching an immersive tour on Nov. 10, 2021 at one of the world’s major archaeological sites.

The program at ancient Olympia harnesses augmented reality technology that designers say has the potential to transform education, business and entertainment. Critics warn it will extend the invasive power of U.S. tech giants.

The culture ministry helped Microsoft map and build virtual representations at Olympia, a site used for nearly a thousand years to host the games in ancient Greece that served as the inspiration for the modern Olympics.

Users can tour the site remotely or in person with an online presentation and an augmented-like mobile app at Olympia, seeing a virtual recreation of temples and competition areas as they walk through the ruins. At the Olympic Museum in Athens, they can use Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens headsets that overlay visual information on top of what the viewer sees.

Tilting up makes a towering statue of Zeus plated in ivory and gold come into view; turning left allows one to peer into the workshop used by the famed sculptor Phidias at the ancient sanctuary more than 2,400 years ago.

Microsoft started the project 18 months ago, scouring Olympia with drones and sensors, after reaching an agreement with the Greek government to build three data centers in greater Athens in an investment to reach up to $1 billion.

Tech companies are racing to deliver mixed reality platforms and gear that would blend the internet with everyday experience, with glasses doubling as personal projectors to provide extra information like route options for bicyclists, player stats for fans at sports venues or virtual fitting rooms at home for shoppers.

It’s part of what’s being called the “metaverse,” a futuristic online world aimed at merging real and virtual life.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headset costs about $3,500 and is typically used by people like doctors or those maintaining jetliners, but a convergence of cheaper eyewear, ever-shrinking processing power and faster internet connections is starting to put it within mainstream reach, experts say.

“They’ll have a decent battery life, most of the computing will be in the phone. And I think those will jump to tourism and education and other mainstream things like that, certainly within a couple of years,” said David Rose, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and tech product designer.

Rose said augmented reality could add “cognitive crutches” that would erode personal calculation skills and further segment societies, with each user immersed in his own reality. But despite the dangers, he remains optimistic. (AP)

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