Saturday 7 July 2012

Something for the Weekend 13

Mapping Their World

A lovely thought occurred to me the other day. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to walk the streets, lanes and byways of our ancestors’ world – not as they are now, but as they were in former times? Imagine seeing the towns, villages and the countryside as your forebears saw them through their own eyes, 50, 100, or even 1,000 years ago! Someday this will be possible, and maybe sooner than you think.

It began when I spotted a story on the Ordnance Survey’s blog about 3D mapping (and there’s another report here). This caught my eye primarily because it involved my home town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it having something to do with research into the efficient laying of solar panels using 3D mapping techniques.

Ordnance Survey will, of course, be the first to admit that they’re not the first on the scene. Google Maps (in the real world) and the gaming industry (in the fantasy world) are already well established on the Virtual Reality (VR) scene – and Apple are set to take things a step further with their soon-to-be-released interface (iOS6) for the iPhone, iPad & iPod which carries their own, brand new 3D mapping software. There are some nice examples of the Apple technology here. It’s hard to believe they are computer-generated – the ‘VR tours’ are stunning.

At the moment such efforts are largely limited to existing landscapes, including cityscapes and what’s left of the old world (nice example here) – and the aforementioned fictional and fanciful world’s explored by our teenagers in their computer games. How long will it be, though, I wonder, until such ‘flyovers’ and ‘walkthroughs’ are available for the historical mapping market to give us a feel of our world as it was decades or centuries ago?

This basic effort has been on the Hexham Local History Society’s website for some time, and there are probably more (and better) simulations out there. By using existing landscape features, historic maps, old photographs/drawings, historical surveys and the like it should be possible (with a bit of artistic licence) to recreate a realistic representation of any well-charted landscape from history. And via the use of VR helmets – and perhaps even sensory body-suits – it will be possible to play out and enjoy these experiences via all five senses. We may even be able to interact with these VR past worlds to a certain degree … and perhaps meet ‘virtual’ representations of our ancestors.

And that, I suspect, may merely be the tip of the technological iceberg.

Mick Southwick.

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