A Collaborative Effort Blending the Art of Photography and Engineering with Virtual Reality

CCM Associate Professor Hrvoje Slovec photographing The Willows

Developing an enjoyable way for people with mobility impairments to visit historical sites built over 100 years ago is a problem being solved by a team of creative minds at County College of Morris (CCM).  The collaborative effort entails blending the art of photography and the science of engineering with virtual reality technology. The innovative result will be offered to all patrons of The Willows, an 1854-Gothic style revival mansion built by General Joseph Warren Revere, grandson of Paul Revere, located at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm (FLHF) in Morristown.

Visitors to the 213-acre New Jersey and National Registry Historic Site are provided with the opportunity to step back in time and explore the 170-year-old home complete with 19th-century costumes and furnishings. Visitors, however, need to climb stairs to reach the five rooms on the second floor. “It’s inaccessible for people who might have mobility issues,” says Hrvoje Slovenc, associate professor of Photography at CCM.

“There is no elevator, and the stairs are steep and narrow, making it very hard for some.” The problem was solved at CCM’s CoLab, an on-campus facility, organized by CCM Chemistry Professor Brian Olson, that serves as a group think tank. “At CCM, we’re committed to students with accessibility needs,” says Olson, “so it’s a natural step to collaborate with the community to enhance accessibility.”

CCM Assistant Professor Nicole Schwartz guiding the Photography Club

First, Slovenc visited The Willows and using 360-degree cameras shot an assortment of high-end photographs of the periodic rooms. Then on campus, Nicole Schwartz, assistant professor of Photography, guided the student Photography Club in using the photos to create a virtual reality tour. “Every 360 shot is a collage of six individual images that students worked diligently to stitch together,” says Schwartz. “The final tour consists of 16 360 photographs.” According to Olson, “The CCM Photo Program brought virtual reality technology to the college, and that created so many opportunities.”

The attention to detail was a significant part of the process. Eric Pedersen, adjunct professor and coordinator of the Mechanical Engineering Technology and Physics Lab at CCM, made a scaled replica of the carving on the upright piano in the Willows mansion.

CCM Professor Eric Pedersen with students from CCMakes, the Maker Club

“He cut the carving on one side and the description on the backside,” explains Slovenc. “Students from CCMakes, the Maker Club, are working on the 3D scans that Eric produced to 3D print an ornate mirror plus the intricate fireplace carvings in The Willows.”

Slovenc and The Willows crew

The CCM project is part of a larger mission at FLHF, which in conjunction with the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and the Institute of Museum and Library Services is working to make New Jersey’s first living farm accessible to all. The FLHF transports visitors back in time to the 1880s to have an authentic experience of daily living on a farm. CCM is proud to bring this innovative teaching tool to such a preservation of the Morris County Park Commission that allows people to interact with costumed docents, learn how to do chores the old-fashioned way and explore exhibits.