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Hof University creates virtual time travel through the Fichtelgebirge region

The “Timetravel Fichtelgebirge” project, launched in 2023, will bring regional history back to life at the Fichtelgebirgsmuseum Wunsiedel: From fall 2024, visitors will be able to take a virtual journey through time to identity-forming places, famous personalities and thematic identity anchors in the Fichtelgebirge. In this way, the museum combines past and present, real objects and virtual applications and conveys local culture and regional identity.

The project is being led by Prof. Michael Zöllner, head of the “Interaction and Data Driven Design” research group at the Institute for Information Systems at Hof University of Applied Sciences (iisys) and Professor of Interaction Design in the Bachelor’s degree course in Communication Design at the Münchberg campus. The team is completed by research assistants Jan Gemeinhardt and Theresa Gebhardt. “Timetravel Fichtelgebirge” is the first cooperation project between Hof University of Applied Sciences and the Fichtelgebirgsmuseum. The communication design students from the Münchberg campus have already been able to demonstrate their skills and innovative strength in the design of several exhibitions for the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth (Spooky Wagner Sound or Theatrum Mundi).

As part of the project, Prof. Zöllner and his team are using artificial intelligence (AI) to bring historical characters to life and bring cultural artifacts to life in 3D. The image generators enhance personalities such as Queen Louise or Alexander von Humboldt. The starting point is, for example, a portrait in a painting. The generators then complete the rest of the body and clothing.

The AI takes care of facial expressions and mouth movements and the characters learn to speak through synthetic voices. Portraits thus come to life, tell their story and take visitors on a journey into the past. Visitors can experience all of this on their own smartphone or via large screens and VR headsets in the museum.

The communication designers at Hof University of Applied Sciences work closely with historians to create and implement a concept that is as true to history as possible.

The Timetravel Fichtelgebirge project is funded by the Bavarian State Ministry of Finance and Home Affairs as part of the Heimat Digital Regional program.

Handover of the funding decision in the amount of 299,700 euros to the Fichtelgebirge Museums Association from the hands of State Minister Albert Füracker at the Bavarian State Ministry of Finance and Regional Identity in Nuremberg on 22.05.2023; Image: Bavarian State Ministry of Finance and Regional Identity

Research work on the basic technologies has now largely been completed. This means that the pipeline for the various AI models that build on each other has been developed, the WebXR (Extended Reality) software for visualization is available as a prototype and the 3D scanning environment for the cultural artefacts has been implemented. At the start of the project, museum visitors were able to vote on site or online to decide which objects would be shown as part of “Timetravel Fichtelgebirge”.

In addition to the on-site experience at the Fichtegebirgsmuseum, a mobile experience tool “Timetravel-to-go” is being developed, which can be used in schools and at events, for example.

Prof. Zöllner, when will visitors be able to experience the virtual journey through time in the Fichtelgebirge?

The exhibition at the Fichtelgebirgsmuseum Wunsiedel will start in November 2024.
We will be presenting the first tests on August 1, 2024 at the Fichtelgebirge Summer Lounge, which is taking place in Goldkronach this year.

What exactly did or does your work in the project look like?

My team and I work a lot on site in the Fichtelgebirge, for example in the “Schmutzlerzeche” visitor gallery and in the “Mittlerer Name Gottes” visitor mine on the Goldberg in Goldkronach or in the rock labyrinth at Luisenburg Castle. The stories are developed in close cooperation with the museum. The research group meets weekly to discuss progress. My role is project management, coordination and the development of the basic technologies on which the employees build the stories.

What makes this project so extraordinary that readers should definitely visit the exhibition?

This question is very easy to answer: our innovative concept! Historical images are brought to life via WebXR, rendered in a historical style (AI style transfer and shaders: oil painting, copperplate engraving, b/w photo) and figures come to life, speak and explain. A journey through time as we know it from “Alice in Wonderland”.
We use AI in a responsible, historically correct and sustainable way.

Further information on the project

Kirsten Hölzel

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