A screenshot from the new Google Expedition highlighting the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached
A screenshot from the new Google Expedition highlighting the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached

Black engineers at Google are creating a first-of-its-kind 3-D interactive exhibit that will debut in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in early 2017.

The exhibit will accompany a $1 million grant as part of google.org’s ongoing work to address racial and social justice issues.

“A few years ago, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the NMAAHC’s director, came to Google’s headquarters and shared his vision to make the museum the most technologically advanced in the world,” said Travis McPhail, a software engineer at Google. “I immediately knew I wanted to be involved, and pulled together people from across the company — designers who focus on user interaction, members of the Cultural Institute, engineers who work on everything from Google Maps to YouTube, and members of the Black Googler Network. For the past year, we’ve been working to deliver on Dr. Bunch’s vision.”

Travis McPhail, software engineer at Google, stands in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

McPhail said they quickly learned that museums are often only able to showcase a fraction of their content and archives to visitors.

“We asked ourselves: what technology do we have at Google that could help enrich the museum experience?” he said. “We worked closely with the museum to build an interactive exhibit to house artifacts from decades of African-American history and let visitors explore and learn about them.”

Google’s engineers used 3-D scanning, 360-degree video, multiple screens and other technologies to build the exhibit. Visitors will be able to see artifacts such as a powder horn or handmade dish from all angles by rotating them with a mobile device.

In addition to the display, the company is launching two new Google Expeditions that take students on a digital journey through African-American history.

“Earlier this year, we formed the African American Expeditions Council — a group of top minds in Black culture, academia and curation — to help develop Expeditions that tell the story of Africans in America,” McPhail said. “With participation from the National Park Service, the Expeditions and Cultural Institute teams captured images of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which commemorates the events, people and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March.

“A second expedition, from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, takes you around Dr. King’s childhood home and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached,” he said.

McPhail said the project took on a greater significance than his normal workload at Google Maps.

“Working on this exhibit has given me a chance to help people discover something else — the ways African-American history is vitally intertwined with our history as a nation,” he said. “I’m proud of the role Google has played a role in taking people on that journey.”

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