iTacitus: Augmented Reality App Recreates the Memory of Places

By August 17, 2009

One of my favorite scenes in film is the recreation of the 19th century glass-and-iron Les Halles market in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s recreation of 1920’s Paris in A Very Long Engagement. The film's CGI visualization of the building, demolished in the 1970’s for the construction of the RER regional train system, is the best piece of architecture porn I know. Seeing the extinct building reconstructed on film is one of the few ways people can experience an approximation of this treasure’s place in space. iTacitus, anagrammed after the Roman historian (and standing for Intelligent Tourism and Cultural Information through Ubiquitous Services), is an augmented reality application that will bring a similar experience to smartphones, allowing tourists to visually reconstruct monuments, both extant and left to memory.

“[Visitors] can look at a historic site and, by taking a photo or viewing it through the camera on their mobile device, be able to access much more information about it,” says Luke Speller, who oversaw development of the technology.

“They are even able to visualize, in real time, how it looked at different stages in history,” Speller says.

The application, recently tested at Palace of Venaria in Italy and Winchester Castle in the UK, is designed to be a location-aware virtual itinerary whose content, located on a central database, is geared to the user’s preferences

The interesting thing is that iTacitus project precedes smartphones, having started three years ago, before the iPhone brought the device into the mainstream.

“We used small portable computers, but people found them hard to see in daylight and too bulky to carry around. That hardware issue has been solved by the iPhone and similar smart phones, which were not as advanced as they are today when the project began three years ago,” Speller says.

The three-year iTacitus research project wrapped up last month and he team is currently developing iTacitus for the iPhone and Google Android OS.

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