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Sciences

Greek Prime Minister Inaugurates Augmented Reality Project in Ancient Olympia (Photos)

November 10, 2021

OLYMPIA, Greece — 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, providing an immersive tour at one of the world’s major archaeological sites that launched Wednesday.

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

School students use a mobile app at the ancient site of Olympia, southwestern Greece, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Inaugurating Microsoft’s Augmented Reality app “Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds”, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday said it was a project that signalled a new start, in which technology meets antiquity.

“Twenty-one months ago, in January 2020, I met with the president of Microsoft for the first time. We discussed many things then, the possibility of the company investing in our country and creating data centres. The idea of working together on an emblematic project was put on the table. Microsoft agreed at once, embraced this idea and the place we chose is to my mind self-evident. Olympia, as a global symbol of universal human values. A place of worship, collective meeting, overcoming differences,” Mitsotakis said.

He stressed that this was a project in which “archaeology meets technology”.

“As important as the great capability that technology gives us may be, on the one hand, to create images and augmented realities, equally important is the contribution of archaeologists. Without the cooperation of archaeologists, the culture ministry, their enthusiasm, I believe that this project could not have been implemented in the end,” the prime minister added.

“Today we are making a first global step in showing how ancient civilisation can meet technology. What I mostly hold on to is not so much the power of technology as the delight in the eyes of the students of the new high school at Ancient Olympia. I believe we are opening up new horizons as we transmit knowledge to the next generation. Making this experience visual is what makes it so unique. I believe it creates new avenues for the country for showcasing our cultural heritage,” Mitsotakis said.

A school student scans a QR code at the ancient site of Olympia, southwestern Greece, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“My vision is to set in motion corresponding experiences for all the important archaeological sites,” he noted, adding: “The challenge lies before us. We will embrace it with passion. Olympia and the common grounds are only a start. Technology is a tool to not only make our lives better. It is a major educational tool, which ultimately unites and does not divide. We will continue on this path but always remember that the first step was taken where it should have been. Here in Ancient Olympia we are making a new start.”

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

School students use a mobile app at the ancient site of Olympia, southwestern Greece, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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

Tilt up and a towering statue of Zeus plated in ivory and gold comes into view; turn left and peer into the workshop used by the famed sculptor Phidias at the ancient sanctuary more than 2,400 years ago.

Microsoft started the project last year, 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.

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, and school students use a mobile app at the ancient site of Olympia, southwestern Greece, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

School students use a mobile app at the ancient site of Olympia, southwestern Greece, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

The image of an ancient temple is reflected on a mixed-reality HoloLens headset worn by museum technician Kostas Baskakis as a projection of Ancient Olympia is seen in the background at the Olympic Museum in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

Museum technician Kostas Baskakis, left, uses a computer at the Olympic Museum in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

Museum supervisor Xenia Vlahou uses mixed-reality HoloLens headset as she stands in front of a scale model of Ancient Olympia at the Olympic Museum in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

Museum supervisor Xenia Vlahou watches a video projection of Ancient Olympia temple at the Olympic Museum in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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