IBM is teaming up with The New York Times’ T Brand Studio to bring history to life through augmented reality just in time to tie-in with a Hollywood launch. And the Triangle features three areas from which viewers can log in through a Pokemon Go-like app.

As the new movie “Hidden Figures” featuring the story of three female African American mathematicians’ role in the NASA race to space, three Triangle universities are access sites from which an augmented reality app takes users to a virtual museum for a multi-dimensional tour of their lives and other largely unknown “heroes of innovation.”

The joint AR project, titled “Outthink Hidden,” launches today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (The movie also highlights the importance of an early IBM mainframe computer in the space program.) IBM says the app and website are a tribute to these women as well as seven other early STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) heroes.

After downloading a free app for either Apple or Android devices, users can find and then tour the multimedia project through their smart phones.

Of 150 “geofenced” locations where the app is sensed on phones, three Triangle universities were picked: N.C. State, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The North Carolina sites were chosen because of their significance to STEM research,” Laurie Friedman of IBM tells WRAL TechWire.

“The locations show up on the geolocation maps – similar to Pokeman Go,” she explains. “The app encourages people to seek out the locations.”

The stars

“Hidden Figures” premiers on Friday. It features the stories of:

  • Katherine Johnson joined NASA in 1953, where she was part of the Space Orbital Mechanics Branch and was hired to make sure the calculations of the computers were correct. She calculated the flight path for the first space mission, and played an instrumental role in numerous space flight missions, including Apollo 11, Apollo 13, and the first manned American flights in space.
  • Mary Jackson was hired by NASA in 1951 as a research mathematician. By 1958 she had become an aerospace engineer specializing on boundary layers i.e., the layer of air referred to as ‘skin friction’ surrounding an aircraft. She spent most of her time on a catwalk during wind tunnel tests causing her some hearing loss.
  • Dorothy Vaughan worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), where she calculated performance testing of drag and lift of various aircrafts. She became one of the earliest computer programmers and helped many notable human computers under her supervision including Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson during their time at NASA.

IBM, which employs several thousand people in the Triangle and across North Carolina, worked with the NYT’s Brand Studio to create the AR project, which includes “an array of 3D computer graphics renderings, written histories and audio and video narratives.”

The app will “activate a digital layer that augments the [smart phone screen] space using visuals such as 3D images, descriptive text, video and audio,” IBM explains. This is different than a virtual reality exhibit which requires headsets.

Other heroes

Among other STEM pioneers featured are:

  • Bessie Blount Griffin, who invented a feeding device for injured World War II veterans;
  • Sara Josephine Baker, who changed the way the world thought about public health and created the role of the school nurse
  • Abraham Nemeth, who developed the Nemeth Code for Braille Mathematics
  • Charles Drew, who created the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S.

Additional activation locations include the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and sites such as the Kennedy Space Center.

“IBM has a long history of commitment to STEM, and to fostering diversity, tolerance and inclusion, which is core to our company’s culture and values,” said Ann Rubin, Vice President, Branded Content and Global Creative at IBM, in announcing the project. “We were inspired to use this app to share the stories of unsung STEM innovators who have changed the lives of people around the world.”

You can visit the IBM site at:

​To download the Apple device app, go to:

To download the Android device app, go to: