Virtual Omaha Beach: Purdue team recreates D-Day battlefield, launches learning environment where information searches for user

  • May 28, 2009
  • Science Highlights

Purdue and Indiana University researchers are commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day by releasing the first version of a 3-D, interactive model of the Omaha Beach battlefield.

A demonstration will take place at the Advanced Visualization Lab Tuesday on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. The event will demonstrate the 3-D model of a key battlefield in the allied invasion to liberate France on June 6, 1944, and several methods of using the system for learning.

“The model, which includes 3-D pillboxes, beach obstacles, field guns, or ships is, in effect, a Web interface,” said Purdue Professor Sorin Adam Matei, its creator and leader of Visible Past, a project developing similar virtual historical sites. “By simply pointing to an object or location of the virtual battlefield, you can call up more information, collaborate with other learners, or add new information.

Matei, an associate professor of communications, is an affiliate of the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization, part of Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP) and its Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. Envision Center staff members and students help develop the D-Day and other Visible Past models.

Students using Virtual Omaha can walk or fly through the model of the beach and the French countryside behind it, taking the perspective of the American or German troops who fought during World War II. Users can inspect troop positions from all angles and information about the digital artifacts encountered can be brought up automatically.

“The really novel aspect of the project is that if another group uses the model while you are visiting it, any information that they add to it will become available to you instantly,” Matei said.

Besides the Web, the Visible Past models can be run in 3-D virtual environments like the three-walled, room-sized system at the Envision Center. They also work in Google Earth or through free, open source software for 3-D Web-based modeling.

In the near future, people visiting Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, will be able to use an iPhone application, developed by Matei, to access the model and collaborate remotely with others.

“We will have professors delivering a tour to a group in Normandy, while students in Indiana will be able to see and hear through (an immersive virtual environment) what their colleagues see and do in France,” Matei said.

The iPhone application also can be used as a “location-aware” guide for Omaha Beach or any historical site documented by the Visible Past project. When visiting the Roman Forum, for example, information about the nearest building could be sent automatically by Visible Past to the iPhone. “This is ubiquitous computing, where information searches for you,” Matei said.

Virtual Omaha is one of the more than two dozen 3-D models, including several UNESCO World Heritage sites, that can be used for teaching and collaboration through the Visible Past project. The models, some of which were created collaboratively by a worldwide community of students, scholars and amateur historians, are enhanced with information collected by Purdue students. Among the projects under development are the Roman Forum, the Taj Mahal and the Statue of Liberty.

Directions to Virtual Omaha demonstrations:

To introduce Virtual Omaha to the public in anticipation of the June 6th D-Day anniversary, public presentations will be given at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, at the Advanced Visualization Lab on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. The lab is located on the fourth floor of School of Informatics, 535 W Michigan St., Indianapolis. A Google Map of the event location and directions are available at Seating is limited. Contact Sorin Matei for a reservation at 317-416-5807 or at Please arrive at least 10 minutes early. There are a limited number of parking meters in the lot directly west of the building. Additional parking can be found in the University Conference Center parking garage approximately a quarter mile west on Michigan St. At the School of Informatics building, check in with the receptionist on the first floor and request an escort to the Virtual Omaha event.

Source: Sorin Adam Matei, 317-416-5807,

(To experience Visible Past as a teaching environment both links should be clicked in succession.)

Omaha Beach, 3-D VRML model (requires plug-in):

Sorin Adam Matei’s research blog:

Originally posted: May 28, 2009