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Imagine watching frantic shopkeepers busily extinguish the Great Fire of London. Or sheltering citizens from Nazi bombing raids during the Blitz.
Now, thanks to a virtual reality app, you can travel back in time. You can be immersed in these events.
It is called the Timelooper app. The app allows users to experience key moments in London history. All that is required is a smartphone and a cardboard headset.
For example, when Timelooper cofounder Andrew Feinberg visits the Tower of London, he doesn't line up with hordes of tourists to catch a glimpse of the royal family's crown jewels. Instead, he uses Timelooper's time travel tourism app. It allows him to experience the tower over 750 years ago, in 1255. The historic tower is a castle on the banks of the Thames River.
Instead of seeing a busy London tourist site, Feinberg sees a medieval marketplace and a formidable fortress. Viewers can even see an elephant being led down a path.
"We actually overlay the current infrastructure with what the infrastructure of the tower and the surrounding environment was like in 13th century London," explained Feinberg. "So for example, now you see a Starbucks. You see the tower as it looks today with the moat drained. When we take you back in time, you actually see the historically accurate representation of the tower in its heyday."
Not far away is St. Paul's Cathedral. Timelooper users travel back to the Great Fire of London. It happened 350 years ago. That was in 1666. The fire burned for four days. It destroyed more than 13,000 houses.
The smartphone offers built-in motion detection. It allows time travelers wearing a cardboard headset to move their gaze around the virtual world. It's a chance to seemingly explore London centuries ago. The videos are location-based. That means visitors must visit the sites to unlock the historical experiences.
Feinberg and his cofounder, Yigit Yigiter, were frustrated with current tourism technology. They say it hasn't evolved much. In 2014, Yigiter's wife brought home a Google cardboard VR headset. He began to think about an immersive virtual reality tourism experience. By September 2015, he'd quit his job in private equity. He moved to the British capital to begin work on the first incarnation of the app. The first version was launched in July 2015. It featured three sites.
Timelooper uses VR to offer a unique historical perspective. The technology has been exploding in many directions throughout the tourism industry. Carnival Cruise Line uses it to market cruises. The Dollywood theme park in Tennessee uses it to show off a new rollercoaster. And the Seattle Space Needle uses it to help visitors appreciate the view from its sky-high observatory. The Dali Museum in Florida created a virtual reality experience, too. It lets visitors walk through a landscape painting by Salvador Dali. And a company called YouVisit has created over 300 VR experiences. It offers destinations from Vatican City to Mexico.
Timelooper is a member of the Travel Tech Lab. It is an incubator space for travel technology start-ups. It was partly created by London & Partners. That is the city's official promotional company.
"Nothing replaces the experience of being on site. But you don't always know what the stories are about those sights," Yigiter said.
London landmarks are also finding Timelooper's VR experience useful. They provide a new-age twist to a decades-old attraction. The Thames River's 120-year-old Tower Bridge is set to launch its own Timelooper experience. It will debut in April. It will take visitors back to 1666. That is before the bridge was even built. Instead, headset wearers view the raging Great Fire of London from a boat's crow's nest as it sails down the river.
Timelooper plans to launch in New York City in April. It will allow tourists to witness the famous kiss that was photographed in Times Square in August 1945. It was on VJ Day, the day World War II officially ended with the surrender of Japan. Visitors will also see the iconic picture of workers eating lunch atop a skyscraper during construction of the Rockefeller Center. That was in 1932.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why doesn't the Timelooper app allow you to see into the future?
Write your answers in the comments section below