Imagine pointing your mobile phone at a Washington, D.C., landmark and reading about its relevance in African-American history. Layering data over real life is at the center of the emerging field of augmented reality, and this mobile phone application will bring black history to the forefront, starting with historic sites in Washington, D.C. Retha Hill, a recent Knight News Challenge winner and director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, will run the project.

The app works in 12 cities, including Baltimore, Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. To access this app, download the Layar Browser for iOS or Android and search for Black History. The browser determines your location by GPS and displays local sites of interest, historical images, video and more. 

An Augmented-Reality App with Black History for 12 Cities

January 12, 2012 Retha Hill

The Black History Mobile App had its fits and starts over the past 12 months, but the app formally launched in August 2011.  We now have content for 12 U.S. cities.


We contracted in last 2010 with a Boulder, Col., company to build the back end for the content management system and the front-end interface with should have been compatible with various augmented-reality browsers, especial Layar and Wikitude.

The company did complete the content management system to house the back end but, after several tries, was not able to build a stable interface with the Layar browser.


Black History App Up and Running Again!

September 27, 2011 Retha Hill

After a long summer of redoing the Black History Augmented Reality app, it is up and running on Layar once again. I am very appreciative of BuildAR, an Australian company that worked with me to get all of my cities coded correctly for the Layar platform.

Currently we are in the following cities:

  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Charleston
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus, OH
  • New Orleans
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • Richmond, VA
  • Washington, DC
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Hitting the Reset Button

May 25, 2011 Retha Hill

As almost every innovator has discovered at one point or another, it is the team that you assemble that can help you soar or trip you up. Months into my Black History Augmented Reality project, I have good and bad news.

The good news is the content for nine cities is available in Layar where users in Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., can download the Layar browser and use the camera lens of their smartphones to find out about black history. I also have content for New York City and Ohio that I have to put into the database, and data from Detroit and Los Angeles are being collected now.

The bad news is the app designed specifically for the iPhone is not ready.

My developers finally admitted what was obvious for months: that they were unable to create an Augmented Reality native iPhone app. ... Read more...

Layar Version Up and Running in Eight Cities

February 22, 2011 Retha Hill

The Black History Augmented Reality app has been well received by people who have used it. Currently, it is available through the Layar browser, an augmented reality application for most smartphones.  Layar works on the iPhone, and a version of the Black History Augmented Reality app specifically for iPhone is under development.

To find and use it, download the Layar browser and search for “black history”. If you live in or visit Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans or Phoenix, you can see points of interest pop up around your city.

I partnered with my fellow New Media Women Entrepreneurs at NolaVie to develop the locations for New Orleans.  You can read more about it here.


Getting There: Mobile Black History App Aims for February Release

January 25, 2011 Retha Hill

With our planned launch in time for Black History Month in February just around the corner, we’re down to nail-biting time here.

I’ve accumulated content about historical sites for six cities, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Phoenix, Richmond, Philadelphia and Boston. With the help of freelancers, whom I’m paying $1 per location they add, we’ll also have content for Charleston and Nashville. I’m excited to report that we are working with one of our fellow New Media Women Entrepreneurs awardees, NolaVie, to produce content for New Orleans.

Our original goal was to get both the iPhone app and the Layar version (for any smart phone user) up and running by the end of January. As predicted, our biggest delay was with development fixes.


A Start-Up Junkie

November 5, 2010 Retha Hill

Call me a start-up junkie, but it is always exciting to see a project come together.

Six months ago, the Black History Mobile app idea was just that – an idea. What if I could use the Augmented Reality technology to guide people to places of interest and significance in black history in Washington, D.C., and other major U.S. cities? That was the premise. Today, I have the reality in my hand. Looking through the camera lens of my iPhone as I cruise around downtown and central Phoenix, I see a dozen or so significant moments of Arizona black history pop up.  There on the corner of 8th and Washington Streets is where a group of black Phoenicians in 1886 founded what would become Tanner A.M.E. Church back. And here, at Old Main on the Arizona State University campus, Benton James walked across the stage in 1924 to become ... Read more...

Work is Underway

September 21, 2010 Retha Hill

Work on the Mobile Black History App is underway. I’ve partnered with a Boulder start-up called BloomWorlds to develop the augmented reality app that will guide users to interesting places in the nation’s capital where African American history took place. BloomWorlds’ founder Darrell Brogdon is a talented programmer who got his start at the company that became McAfee and then with Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life.  He’s done a number of iPhone apps, is a serial entrepreneur and, like me, a history buff.

I’m going through the often-tedious task of tracking down longitude and latitude for all of the notable (and not so well known but still significant) places where black history happened in D.C.  Aside from Google Earth and Wikipedia, if anybody knows of a better source for coordinates, please let me know.


Ready to Get Started

August 12, 2010 Retha Hill

First, a heart-felt thank you to J-Lab and the judges for giving me a New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant. The grant will allow me to pursue my two passions: media transformation and history. The Black History mobile app will utilize the emerging technology of augmented reality to tell users something they might not know about the history of places all around them.

Like most entrepreneurs, my plans are ambitious. We will start providing content in Washington, D.C., but I hope to quickly launch in several more cities. My plan is to have the app up and running well in advance of Black History Month 2011. Yikes! February 2010 is only six months away, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Despite my ambitious plans for the app, I am mindful of a couple of key lessons of entrepreneurship:  Keep it simple and make sure you have an A Team going ... Read more...