The WWI Memorial “Virtual Explorer” App is Nominated for Two Webby Awards

Published: 11 April 2022

The Webby Awards are the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet. Established in 1996 during the Web’s infancy, The Webbys are presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS) with a 2000+ member judging body. Webby Awards are hailed as the “Internet’s highest honor,” the award is one of the oldest Internet-oriented recognitions, and is generally considered web, app, and digital technologies’ highest award.

“We are incredibly honored that the WWI Memorial “Virtual Explorer” App has been selected from among over 14,300 entries as a finalist in not one but two categories of the Webby Awards,” said Theo Mayer the project’s Producer/Director and the Chief Technologist for the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Doughboy Foundation.

Why did we create the App?

“As we were creating the new National World War I Memorial in Washington D.C., we wanted it to be a true 21st Century Memorial that would appeal to the new digital native generations and to add an “Experiential” element to it,” stated Dan Dayton, Executive Director of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and President of the Doughboy Foundation. “Supporting that notion are two initiatives:  One focusing on the cutting edge interactive augmented reality Apps and the other, coming from a more traditional perspective, is our honoring of WWI and all veterans at the WWI Memorial every day by playing of taps at 5pm,” he concluded.

What is the WWI Memorial “Virtual Explorer” App?

The Virtual Explorer app transports the entire 1.8 acre Memorial from Washington, DC to students in school classrooms or at home using iOS or Android smartphones and tablets.

The App is aimed at the millions of students that cannot make the traditional middle/high school trip to Washington, D.C., whether for pandemic or financial reasons. The experiential, educational, augmented reality-driven, virtual field trip to the Memorial provides an engaging and interactive exploration of WWI through the Memorial.

A sampling of features includes:

  • A 50′ tall “timeline tower” that presents 50 key events in short 10-15 second pictured and narrated ideas.
  • “Vehicles from WWI” that presents the transporation revolution fomented by WWI as it allows students to drop 3D models of WWI airplanes, tanks, ambulances, and even a WWI era Harley Davidson motorcyle into their space and manipulate them.
  • There are many narrated video and 3D animated stories that play out in innovate ways, including 50 micro-documentaries presented by leading historians and experts addressing the social impact of WWI on women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, the 1918 pandemic (produced before Covid, presenting an amazing contrast and similarity)

…plus much more!

The App is free and created with grants from Walmart, Verizon, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities among others.

What challenges did we faced in using AR as a storytelling medium?

In developing the App we wanted to explore ways to use “AR” to tell the story of WWI in innovative ways.

Our goal has been to engage new and future audiences:

  • There are no living veterans of WWI.
  • Those who have living memory of WWI veterans are now nearly in their 70’s and older.

So, how do you create a connection between a “turn of the 20th Century event” and the 21st Century “smartphone native” generation?

Our conclusion was to use the mobile devices in most people’s pocket to leverage the burgeoning AR capability they offer.

This involved many challenges:

  • In our research phase, we found few references using AR for storytelling to learn from or emulate.
  • As a non-commercial project we were very resource constrained.

Doughboy Foundation leadership was incredibly supportive and accepted that we were in uncharted waters.

By creating “rapid prototyping,” “OK to fail,” and constant usability testing as a project culture, we soon defined a number of methods, methodologies, and user interface conventions for our AR storytelling.

We ran down many blind alleys and dove down many rabbit holes, however, we believe what we have achieved presents an excellent example for others with a desire to use AR as a storytelling, experiential, interactive education paradigm. We are honored, proud and happy to share lessons learned with all.

Communicator Award trophy
“Best Use of Augmented Reality”
The WWI Memorial “Virtual Explorer” prototype was released as an experimental app last year and received a 2021 Communicator Award for “Best Use of Augmented Reality” from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts. The innovative “Virtual Explorer” education technology (EdTech) initiative has received support and funding from Walmart, Verizon, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

There is a companion app called the WWI Memorial “Visitor Guide”. It is very similar, to the “Virtual Explorer” but is designed for use when you are physically at the WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. The smaller app can be downloaded when at-site to ad an interactive and experiential WWI history element as an overlay to a WWI Memorial visit.

BOTH Apps can be found by searching on “WWI Memorial” in either app store or by going to




To download the WWI Memorial Virtual Explorer
Scan or click on the QR code for your Apple or Android smartphone / tablet.

iOS QR codeGoogle Play QR code

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