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The nineteenth century, up close and personal

By Will Sloan

Fort York Time Tablet Experience

The Fort York Time Tablet Experience integrates the Fort York environment with animation and narration.

Anyone who has visited a museum is surely familiar with attempt to “make history come alive.” Though it’s impossible to travel back to the War of 1812, a new technology at the Fort York National Historic Site will attempt to get as close as possible.

The Fort York Time Tablet Experience is virtual reality system that seeks to place visitors in the midst of history. Developed by AWE Company Ltd. and filmmaker Srinivas Krishna in collaboration with Ryerson University, the tablet integrates the surrounding Fort York environment with computer animation and narration. Using the tablet, visitors can see facsimiles of historical events in the environment where they happened – and from different perspectives depending on their position.

Three Ryerson teams from the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, led by professors Matthew Kyan, Ling Guan, Yifeng He, and five graduate students, began developing the technology in 2011. “We weren’t even thinking of augmented reality at that point – it was just a virtual, cinematic experience where you’d go back in time and play the events,” said Kyan, program director of Ryerson’s Master’s in Digital Media.

“At the same time, we were interested in researching some of the challenges that plague augmented reality and virtual reality as presented in the real world. We designed a research project to address some of those challenges.” The teams are currently working on how to adjust the virtual reality for changes in light.

The technology will offer a more immersive experience for visitors, said Fort York manager David O’Hara. “We’re able to interpret a lot of the lost features. People come here and they’re hard-pressed to figure out where the lake was at the time, and how the ravine system was wrapped around the site.

“One of the very first things they’re trying to do is provide museum visitors with the proper context for how and why this place was developed – for example, how the shoreline was to the immediate south of the fort, not half a kilometre like it is today. This site has been around for a long time, and using these new technologies, we’re able to convey the information and messages in a different way.”

The Ryerson researchers are now developing the Time Tablet further, for a long-term research project that will expand the capabilities of the augmented virtual reality technology. They have created a non-augmented outdoor version, and are currently working on a fully immersive outdoor augmented reality. “We refer to it as mixed reality,” said Kyan. “This is the basis for the research that is ongoing. Things will be embedded in a real environment, which is a very engaging experience.”

The Fort York Time Tablet Experience will be offered in a trial run to Fort York visitors within the next few weeks. A launch is anticipated by spring. To see the technology in action, go to vimeo.com/67098293. To see the technology profiled on InnerSpace, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny5eHMRpxMQ.