Projects: National WWII Museum Issues Digital Dog Tags

October 17, 2016 by Dave Haynes


I was in New Orleans for a few days last week, and felt lucky to have the time to tour the National World War Two Museum that has become a huge attraction in that city. It has been around for a few years , and recently added some new digital wrinkles I thought were worth sharing.

The huge museum – military history buffs could spend days there – makes good use of fine-pixel pitch LED displays in some common areas, and narrow-bezel video walls are at the gateways of main exhibit areas – like the European theatre and the Asian theatre. The museum also does a nice job of projecting low-resolution archival footage on suspended fabric built into mood-setting areas like the Guadalcanal jungle.

There are some older areas with overhead projection that were pretty fuzzy and ready for upgrades, but overall, it’s a nice example of how displays are built into the visitor experience.

What’s relatively new, and very nicely done, is interactive work done by NY-based Unified Field that uses RFID and interactive screens to personalize the visit for people. A ticket comes with a digital dog tag – a credit card-sized sheet of plastic that has an RFIF tag inside. To enter the museum, visitors enter a vintage Pullman rail car that provides the sensation of young men and women heading from their homes to whatever branch of service they were in. On the backs of seat benches, there are screens with flanking RFID readers that encourage visitors to check in, and leave a name and email. Their dog tag is allocated the name and profile of a select number of people who served in the war – from pilots to foot soldiers and sailors.

Through the different galleries, you could then use the dog tag at various interactive stations to tap in and learn more about that person and his or her role in the war, as it related to that area. The nice cross-platform aspect of this is how the dog tags are tied to a relational database, and visitors have links to their experience online, so they can revisit or drill deeper off their own computers, back at home.

I also liked/lived the exhibit that had old airplanes suspended in an atrium – from fighters to dive bombers to a B-17 bomber. The museum has elevated walkways so visitors can get at eye-level and above the suspended aircraft.  On the walkways, there are more interactive stations that offer 360-degree views inside cockpits.


The Unified Field case study says:

The Flyboys interactive kiosk puts museum visitors behind the stick of three classic fighter planes such as the Messerschmitt Bf-109, the P-51 Mustang, and the P-40 Warhawk. Positioned next to the real restored fighters suspended from the ceiling, the Flyboys interactive provides a 360 degree view of cockpit interiors, packed with hotspots which explain the buttons, levers and switches. Archival videos show the planes in action while oral history videos transport guests into the hearts and minds of veteran pilots.

Great museum. For obvious reasons it is skewed to the American experience, but is also very respectful of the role played by other allied countries (like Great Britain and Canada also had big roles in D-Day). If you are down that way, and have a spare afternoon, it’s worth a visit to learn and pay respects, but also to get some ideas on how to effectively apply displays and interactive screens.


  1. Neil Bron Chatwood says:

    Nice write up mate. I was lucky enough to take a walk through the museum about 18 months ago; your sentiments match my own.

    I found three sections I particularly impressive. First, the area where you are situated in a hanger with projected scenes overhead that can be seen through holes in the “roof”, while a “real time” overhead view of air battles can be seen on a large surface setup.

    The second is the wooded, snowy area of Bastogne. Very immersive with the fog, gunfire, splintered tress and lights flashing in the smoke.

    Finally was the “Submarine” experience. I remember I had to pay extra for it, but I was really surprised. It doesn’t integrate the dog tags, but each person gets a role to play on the craft with a 360 degree screen over the top of the set. So when the submarine comes out of the water you can see all around, gunfire, missiles overhead, etc.

    You’re right about some of the areas needing a bit of TLC, but overall I was really impressed with level of technology hitting a sweet spot. Nothing was too over the top (this is America after all!) and nothing stood out as being superfluous.

    I’d love to work on something like that.

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