Virtual time travel in pre-reformation Edinburgh – PUBLIC PREMIERE


Pre-reformation Edinburgh Grassmarket under construction

Virtual time travel and digital reconstruction of
pre-reformation Edinburgh

-Public Premiere-  

Dr Alan Miller & Mr Keith Millican  | School of Computer Science & Smart History

In “A View from a Hill”, a ghost story by M. R. James, an archaeologist’s binoculars allows them to see scenes from the past. This project will enable visitors and residents of Edinburgh to see the city as it was just prior to the reformation. We use mobile phones and the Google Day dream platform to deliver an onsite dual reality experience. As visitors explore the sites of Edinburgh, they can see into the past using their digital time travel binoculars. The app is mobile and orientation aware, automatically delivering the correct view. A map interface allows an engaging experience for remote virtual visitors as well.


Pre-reformation Edinburgh Netherbow under construction

Why is it important?

This approach enables the user experience to be optimised for technology that they already have in their pocket. It makes virtual time travel a reality that is available to mass audiences. This provides a new way of interacting with the past that both enriches the visitor experience and provides insights into the past not otherwise readily available.

What is the research?

The VTB design draws upon EPSRC funded research at the University of St Andrews into dual reality systems where the virtual and real worlds occupy the same space. Position and orientation within the two worlds are synchronised enabling intuitive exploration of both worlds through movement in the real world. We investigated dual reality systems through exploring inside (St Salvators Chapel) and outside (St Andrews Cathedral) using modified Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard VR headsets. This led us to observe that users tended to look around whilst using the headsets.

Observation of users led us to a viewpoint oriented approach, where we use high fidelity 360 photographs of a reconstruction developed in the UNREAL4 Game Engine. This allows the digital content to be hosted and displayed on mobile platforms and does not require the virtual reality viewer to be tethered to a bulky computer.

How is it applicable?

This research has been applied within The Virtual Time Binoculars (VTB) project and is a core component of the Smart History company founded by Dr Katie Stevenson and Dr Alan Miller. The VTB is a £105,000 Edinburgh Digital Launchpad project, funded by Innovate UK.

In VTB we are developing a digital reconstruction of pre-reformation Edinburgh. The Smart History team brings together a multi-disciplinary team of Computer Scientists, Digital Designers, Digital Media producers, Historians and Museum Professional. We have CAA approved drone pilots, Google approved 360 photographers and prize winning historians working together to create both engaging mobile onsite experiences.

The historical work has been conducted in consultation with Prof. Richard Fawcett and John Lawson Edinburgh City Council Historian. We have also worked with the National Trust for Scotland and the Timespan Museum and Gallery in developing the technology used in the app. We are working with Edinburgh City Museum to provide a permanent showcase for the project. The Medieval Edinburgh App will be launched at the start of May 2017, but you will be able to get the first public peak at this work at the IAA Showcase on March the 16th at St Andrews University. We expect the VTB to become a ‘must have’ part of the experience of visiting Edinburgh, which is at the heart of Scotland’s tourist industry.


Pre-reformation Edinburgh city scape