I saw a really interesting bit of technology at the SLF in September – using a Sony PSP with a gocam, small matrices could be used to create augmented reality displays using a system called Second Sight.
The whole concept of augmented reality is an facinating one. AR is primarily used in the military for heads up displays where information can be added to a scene to provide additional information beyond the visual, and anyone who has watched the Terminator films will have at least a passing familiarity with the idea. I have to say that I found their demo of a dragon appearing on mats a touch gimicky, and I wasnt entirely convinced by their attachment of MP3 files to textbooks to read out the text of speeches although no doubt english teachers could see the benefits. What did interest me however was the prospect of attaching codes to historical monuments, ruins and museum exhibits.
The potential to add rich contextualised media for a mass audience using common technology brings augmented reality into a new era giving it the ability to radically alter how we view the past. Imagine school trips to Bannockburn where videos of scenes of battle are projected live in the middle of a muddy field.
Projecting images onto street scenes can bring history to life as never before. Not just “Big History” like recreating Bannockburn, but “little history” too. Primary sources for “little history” are limited at the moment, however as picture and video capture on mobile phones and the increasing amount of sousveillence that people employ means that these sources will become more and more common. How amazing would it be to go to the school that your parents went to and view them waving goodbye to your grandparents on their first day by sticking a matrix on the door and watching the scene come alive.
But technology can always go one better. A 3D camera with video capture is just about to be lauched. For the time being these will be prohibitively expensive, but in time cost will come down, integration into mobile phones will follow and mass ownership will result. In years to come history will be accessible to all with the ability to watch historical events as an onlooker, verging on time travel. Perhaps thats the answer to the old conundrum of if time travel is possible how come there arent people from the past here already, maybe thats because we will be in the future, called up on demand.
In the future, the past wont be so far away.