In time for San Antonio’s yearlong Tricentennial celebration, Alamo Reality plans to debut in March an interactive application that enables users to explore the Alamo’s place in history. Using immersive augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology in the unnamed cellphone app currently in development, San Antonio’s visitors, residents, and students alike can learn about the 1836 Battle and key historical figures.

The free app will provide a historically accurate experience that transports visitors to the Alamo before, during, and after the 1800s. Users can select different historical “layers” that transpose the historic footprint of the Alamo from different time periods onto the present-day structure and environment, incorporating the stories of historic figures from the Alamo’s history.

Augmented reality applications have been growing in popularity, as seen in the Pokemon Go craze of 2016. Using a cellphone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) and camera, new AR/VR apps superimpose computer-generated images atop users’ views of reality on their cellphone to create a composite view rooted in both real and virtual worlds.

A photograph of a Pokèmon Go setting. Photo by Scott Ball.
A photograph of the AR game Pokèmon Go. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Alamo Reality team includes well-known experts in AR/VR design and development, including Imagine Virtua CEO Chipp Walters and Alamo Reality CEO Michael McGar.

“It’s exciting that people will be able to hold up a phone or tablet and experience the Alamo from 1836 come to life on the very spot where these events happened,” McGar said. “Using the power of augmented and virtual reality, visitors will be able to find historical locations hidden by modern construction and see and hear the stories of people who lived through these events.”

“To tell a story as important as the Alamo’s, we are combining a team of historical scholars with industry-leading augmented and virtual reality visionaries,” Walters said. “The end result will allow participants to explore the legendary siege of the Alamo, inspect the mission grounds, walls, gates, and barracks, and learn about the people who lived and died here in a personal and evocative way.”

Imagine Virtua is a Texas-based AR/VR design experience studio with a presence in San Antonio and Austin. Walters brings more than 25 years of design experience, including work with Disney, DreamWorks, and the Discovery Channel. Alamo Reality CEO McGar has worked with institutions such as The Smithsonian, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, and companies such as Miramax, Sony Digital Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Harcourt Brace, and Houghton Mifflin.

Stephen Hardin, one of the foremost experts on Alamo history and the historical consultant for the 2004 movie The Alamo, is the lead historical consultant on the app.

Remati Investments, a San Antonio-based investment company, has committed a seven-figure sum to fund the development of the new app, which its backers say will better connect a larger audience with the historic heritage represented by the Alamo.

Lane Traylor, who runs Remati and is board chairman for Alamo Reality, fell in love with the concept.

“The Alamo holds a story that is revered globally,” Traylor said. “As Texans, I believe we have a great honor in preserving this history and sharing it with the rest of the world in a historically accurate way that incorporates the latest mobile technologies.”

Alamo Reality was created specifically for this project and will own the new app that will tell the story of the Alamo in a way that Traylor and others believe will engage a younger audience in a more profound way. 

Ranked 18th on Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of 50 best places to visit in 2016, the Alamo boasts around 1.3 million visitors annually. San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration is expected to boost record attendance to what is arguably the most famous historical site in Texas.

For McGar, a native Texan whose father served in the U.S. Army and is a military historian, this project is an opportunity to teach users the history behind the Alamo. The immersive and interactive experience will include Texan, Mexican, and Native American perspectives with modern-day and newly discovered information and artifacts.

“We hope to have the app users understand the people behind these events,” McGar said. “We’re also looking for a sponsor who would be interested in underwriting using this application in every school in Texas, to help bring to life this essential part of Texan history.”

The app will also explain artifacts related to the Alamo. For instance, app users standing near the Alamo’s 18-pound cannon will be able to learn exactly why that cannon is important.

“Kids can capture different icons or objects around San Antonio, so it’s not just focused at the Alamo,” McGar said. “You’ll be able to go to the [Spanish-colonial] Missions and other locations around San Antonio to get a richer understanding of the entire story behind the Battle of the Alamo and why it came to happen here.”

The app will include a wave-by-wave narration of the Battle of the Alamo based on written accounts of Mexican soldiers who survived. It will also provide users with the ability to see the Alamo’s history in different time periods.

“[Using the app], I can see all the walls of the Alamo rebuilt as it was in 1886. I can also see it as a Mission in the 1700s, or I can see how the site looked when the Indians lived here and there was no Mission, or at the turn of the 19th century when the Alamo was a general store.”

nitial 3D rendering of the Alamo church, long barracks and cattle pens from architectural blueprints.
An initial 3D rendering of the Alamo church shows its long barracks and cattle pens from architectural blueprints. Credit: Courtesy Imagine Virtua / Alamo Reality

McGar’s film production company was the first to shoot inside the Alamo since 1906, so the team used the opportunity to photograph its interior, the maps, and all the artifacts.

The team will create add-ons, such as collectible AR-enable cards. Each card will have either a historical figure who will “come to life” in 3D using the app and narrate his point of view based on historical records or feature an artifact such as the Alamo’s 18-pound cannon.

When users view the cannon card using the app, the cannon crew materializes and goes through the process of loading the cannon and firing it. The cannonball then flies virtually past the viewer.

The title screen of the augmented reality Alamo experience.
The title screen of the augmented reality Alamo experience. Credit: Courtesy / Imagine Virtua & Alamo Reality

“Because I grew up living in a military family I understand that these men arrived at the Alamo as normal people. They became heroes as a result of what happened at the Alamo,” McGar said. “When people see what their lives were really like, it will help them make a connection and understand how heroic it was for many on both the Texan side and the Mexican side to stay and become a part of the Alamo’s history.”

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.