Startup aims to expand use of augmented-reality tours

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Print this page by Brian J. Couturier
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ARtGlass says its technology will give visitors new perspectives
at historical and cultural sites. Photo courtesy ARtGlass

After testing its technology at famous places such as Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, a Richmond-based startup has secured funding to help it expand in the U.S.

ARtGlass plans to provide the augmented-reality technology to American historical and cultural sites. About 700,000 visitors to European sites already have used smartglasses with ARtGlass technology.

Visitors use the technology the same way they use audio guides.  Smartglasses with the technology will allow them to have augmented-reality tours, using audio, text and other features such as three-dimensional holograms, images of long-lost buildings, interpretive signs or reconstructed 360-degree views of historical landscapes. 

“You’ll be able to walk around with the museum collection or over a historic landscape, and you’ll be able to see through these glasses the real world, but layered over that real world will be all kinds of visual and auditory magic,” says Greg Werkheiser, the CEO of ARtGlass.

Richmond-based Trolley Venture Partners recently announced an investment in ARtGlass. Begun last year, Trolley raised $4 million from its initial round of fundraising in June, but it declined to disclose how much money it has invested in ARtGlass and two other companies. The firm provides capital to startups in Central Virginia.

ARtGlass tested its technology at about two dozen sites in Europe before bringing it to the U.S. “The plan was always to kick the tires and make sure we got it right and fix any glitches we could while in Europe and then scale up in the U.S.,” says Werkheiser.

ARtGlass now is ramping up efforts to bring its technology to museum and historic sites across the US. Already ARtGlass can be found at Highland, the Charlottesville-area home of President James Monroe.  The next site to offer ARtGlass tours is George Washington’s Mount Vernon, which attracts more than 1 million visitors annually. A date for the Mount Vernon launch has not yet been announced.

Trolley’s investment will be used to bolster ARtGlass’ software platform, enhance its intellectual property and help it scale deployment to more North American cultural institutions. Hank Heyming, a member of Trolley’s investment committee, says providing augmented reality to these institutions will help them attract younger visitors and keep them “more sustainable.”

Werkheiser is confident that augmented-reality tours will be popular in the U.S. “People who are coming to sites these days or the people who the sites want to come, especially younger visitors, have a pretty demonstrable hunger for storytelling that is different and more mind blowing,” he says.

ARtGlass has five full-time employees and five part-time workers.

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