Picture the scene. You are standing on the observation deck of New York’s Rockefeller Center. Standalone coin-op telescopes stand silently among the crowd, waiting for their chance to show the tourists a better view of the city.

You approach, drop in your 25 cents and press your eyes to the viewer, expecting to see a modern metropolis. Instead, you are transported back to 1656 when the Big Apple was New Amsterdam. As you watch, the cityscape is filled with construction projects and the development of iconic landmarks that have made the New York skyline globally famous … all accurately rendered and presented in virtual reality.

Virtual Reality Brings History To Life

The bad news is that this type of retroactive viewpoint is not yet available in the United States.

In 2018, the Top of the Rock is filled with the selfie-taking sightseers, most of whom are not taking full advantage of the 360-degree views of the Five Boroughs. Visions of our past are more likely to be found in apps, but a French-developed tower viewer could usher in a new form of location-based historical experiences.

Billing itself as the “ultimate time travel experience for public spaces,” Timescope is an LBE attraction that gives the viewer a chance to see cities, heritage sites and places of interest as they were hundreds of years ago. The VR terminal was one of the few location-based experiences at CES 2018, albeit that it was tucked away in the depths of the conference’s Eureka Park marketplace.

According to Timescope’s co-founder and CEO Adrien Sadaka, historically-accurate virtual reality experiences are the perfect conduit to provide people with both an alternative view of a fixed location and an introduction to VR.

“You are able to go back and see a location as it was, it’s construction, the arrival of immigrants … you can reveal everything based on the archives,” Sadaka said, in an interview with immersed.io at CES 2018. “We work with historians and scientists on the content. With our team of graphic designers, we develop specific content which is accurate and aesthetically pleasing in terms of storytelling. We help people see and understand how it was in the past.”

Entertainment Plus Education

The concept is breathtakingly simple; find a place that has some level of significance, install a Timescope terminal and give people an immersive experience that is not only entertaining but also educational. As an added bonus, the terminal doesn’t require staff and can, the company website says, operate on a 24/7 basis.

Each terminal—there are currently 15 in operation, all in France—has a 4K screen resolution display, height adjustment capabilities, and an embedded stereo sound system. The viewer has a choice of three modes—historical, future and teleport—which can be accessed almost instantly. In addition, the terminal is weather-proof and (apparently) resistant to vandalism.

Source: Timescope, The Bastille

Unsurprisingly, the learning curve is very short, with the aim being to offer these experiences for free wherever possible. The Teleport option, for instance, is designed for airport use, giving travelers a VR glimpse of their final destination.

The LBE terminal is certainly robust, although it was difficult to get a sense of how Timescope would fare in the real world as its Eureka Park booth was extremely cramped and surrounded by curious CES attendees.

Small gaps in the viewer itself reduced the overall feeling of presence, but this was likely down to the universal head-size that the company had chosen for its out-of-home VR viewing experience. The historical recreations and content were well-rendered, although they did seem to be more similar to Call of Duty as opposed to photo-realistic.

Time Travel Is Possible In Location-Based VR

However, these are minor gripes when you consider both the nascent nature of the terminal itself and its target audience. For the moment, there are no plans to turn Timescope into another history-based VR app, Sadaka said, with the company planning a global roll-out of its LBE terminals in the near future.

There is no cast-iron guarantee that people will want to see the world as it was rather than how it is now (or even a Jetson-based future), but time travel is certainly something that virtual reality is more than equipped to provide ... especially for those of us that don’t have access to a DeLorean DMC-12.

Location-based entertainment was under-represented at CES 2018, but Timescope did attract over 1,200 “testers” over the duration of the show—around 75 percent of whom rated the experience highly, the company said in a post-CES email to Greenlight Insights.

“We believe that the core VR experience is to be lived on-site,” said Sadaka. “The plan is to develop more locations to help people enjoy the experience in as many locations as they want.”

Lead Image by Timescope