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The Tunnels of Vauquois, France Are Brought to Blacksburg by Immersive Technology

It was quite an unfortunate incident when a beautiful village of North Eastern France got completely devastated in the World War I. Vauquois was quite a picturesque village, with lush green meadows stretching for several miles up to the Argonne Forest. It was transformed into a battleground and got destroyed beyond recognition.

The Germans and the French were at loggerheads with each other from 1914 to 1918 in the want of this strategically placed hill. When nobody could succeed with their tactics above the ground, they planned to go beneath the land. Both the German and French soldiers dug tunnels underground with the intention of taking the opposite side down with the help of sudden explosives.

The receptions that are held on the fourth floor of Newman Library on Feb. 13 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and Feb. 27 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. allow the guests to have a look at these historical tunnels. The visitors get to explore the tunnels in The Vauquois Experience Exhibit with the help of virtual reality technology and a physical replica.

There is a talk about the exhibit making its way to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. in April as a part of the 2019 ACCelerate festival. This will be done with the agenda of sharing the experience of the brave soldiers who used to fight in the tunnels.

The Vauquois Project started in 2016 after getting a grant from the Institute of Creative Arts and Technology. Todd Ogle, who is the executive director of Applied Research in Immersive Environments and Simulations of University Libraries, along with his colleagues on the VT Visualizing History Team went to Vauquois for documenting, scanning and photographing the surface topography, as well as, the interior and the features of the tunnels.

According to Ogle, the collected data is rolled together to form an immersive environment that will give the people a chance to visualize the life inside the Vauquois tunnels both before and during the war. They will get to see the transformation of how a peaceful landscape could turn into a destructive battleground.

David Hicks, a professor of the School of Education, is also a part of the team. He had said that the VT Visualizing History Team’s main motive was to present an immersive experience to the people that will enable them to see the past while standing in the present. The experience would be like what the tunnels would say to the people if they could talk.

While walking through the replica of the tunnels, the visitors can feel the rough walls exactly like how the soldiers used to feel it all those years back. This exhibit is a perfect example of what the faculty and students from artistic, technical and humanities-based can do when they come together. They have collaborated to push the boundaries of virtual-reality technologies and hence have come up with this extraordinary project.

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